The Edmonton Oilers will have a small window of opportunity for a skill center this fall, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues his rehab from shoulder surgery. The two most likely candidates for the job are Mark Arcobello (in photo courtesy Rob Ferguson) and new hire Andrew Miller–signed during the MacTavish era. From a distance, it looks like a close race. Let’s look a little closer.
THE MAN FROM YALE
Andrew Miller is a 5.10, 180 center with terrific skills and an impressive college resume. Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus broke down his skills when Miller was signed by the Oilers:
- Pronman: Miller displays above-average qualities in terms of his speed, puck skills and overall offensive instincts. In his Senior season especially he showed the ability to consistently create scoring chances and keep the play flowing in the right direction.
There are some concerns from Pronman, however:
- Pronman: The concerns I would have with Miller are firstly his physical game. He’s a 5′9′’ forward and although he does work hard, I’m not convinced he has the necessary grit and physical qualities to be anything more than replacement level in that area in the pro game. With Miller you also wonder if he has enough offensive talent, meaning if he’s dynamic or merely good, to overcome his size. I see reasonable arguments for and against him on that issue depending on which night you saw him.
Pronman’s concerns about Miller’s offense are strengthened when we run Miller’s college numbers through Robert Vollman’s new equivalency for ECAC college players. (Vollman’s book is here).
ANDREW MILLER’S NHLE (USING VOLLMAN’S METRIC)
- Age 21 82, 3-18-21
- Age 22 82, 7-19-26
- Age 23 82, 4-18-22
- Age 24 82, 10-13-23
Those numbers suggest an offensive "tweener" and if they do reflect his true offensive value then Miller is unlikely to have an NHL career. However, history tells us that he’ll get every chance to show what he can do during training camp and pre-season, for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a new center and the club will want to see what he can do as soon as possible, and secondly Craig MacTavish signed him and believes in him.
- MacT: “He’s not big, but he’s strong on the puck and he’s got great hockey sense. He’s a real cerebral player.”
THE MAN…ER..OTHER MAN FROM YALE
Mark Arcobello is basically the same age, but has been playing pro hockey for three seasons. In 2012-13, Arcobello had a terrific year with the OKC Barons, scoring 22-46-68 in 74 AHL games and playing in his first NHL game with the Oilers. Arcobello also impressed with 236 shots on goal (3rd in the league) and flourished with and without help from the NHL lockout players.
Arcobello’s NHL equivalency from last season (I ran all the Barons forwards through Vollman’s number awhile back) gives us 82, 11-23-34, or a significantly stronger offensive number than Miller’s.
Also important is that MacTavish likes what Arcobello can bring and in fact signed him this summer.
- MacT: I liked him last year, I was an advocate of giving him an opportunity, especially in our bottom six last year, but he only came up for the one game. It all boils down to your ability to make plays with the puck. When he played with Hall and Eberle in Oklahoma City this year earlier, his production was excellent. It was actually on par with Nuge. I’m not saying that he’s Nuge, but it was on par with Ryan. So I think that we’ll get him to training camp. When we signed him again to a contract I had a conversation with him and told him that he would get a look at training camp. He hasn’t played in an exhibition game or didn’t last year, so we’ll get a look and the rest will be up to him to prove to the coaching staff that he’s got enough game to warrant a bigger look as training camp goes by. I promised him that opportunity and we’re going to give it to him.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers have not supplied new coach with many depth options at center via the draft. The top end guys (Nuge, Gagner) were lottery picks, Gordon is a free agent signing and Miller/Arcobello are college men. Will Acton is an AHL veteran signed for insurance, and only Anton Lander represents the non-lottery draft group in this battle. Perhaps Travis Ewanyk can push his way into the conversation.
For the Oilers, they need a 4C and a replacement C for the Nuge as he readies himself after surgery. What does that mean? Oiler fans are going to see a lot of these Yale products in pre-season, and we should pray to Baby Jesus at least one of them can grab a job and perform well in it.
Center is not a position of great depth at this time.