An opportunity for Mark Arcobello?

It’s funny what a change in management can do. A year ago, Mark Arcobello got a bunch of breaks but wasn’t allowed to take advantage of them – because no matter how poorly Chris Vande Velde or Ryan Smyth played at centre, he wasn’t going to get a real opportunity to show what he could do. He landed a single NHL game despite a decimated depth chart and guys playing out of position.

Under the new regime, he may find himself on the opening night roster.

2013

After the trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff, the Oilers employed a variety of players at centre:

  • Eric Belanger: 26 games
  • Ryan Smyth: 18 games
  • Anton Lander: 11 games
  • Chris VandeVelde: 11 games
  • Jerred Smithson: 10 games
  • Mark Arcobello: one game
  • Lennart Petrell: one game

There was a desperate need for centres in Edmonton. Lander got hurt, VandeVelde couldn’t get any traction with the coaches in an extended audition, and Smyth was a fish out of water. Arcobello got just one game.

2013-14

The Oilers most likely 2013-14 depth chart at centre looks like this:

  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  • Sam Gagner
  • Boyd Gordon
  • Anton Lander

Arcobello has three plausible routes to a spot on the opening night roster.

A Ryan Nugent-Hopkins injury. Nugent-Hopkins may be ready to go on opening night, but off-season surgery means he may not be. If he isn’t ready to go, than Sam Gagner becomes the team’s top centre by default, and the team faces some choices: a) bump Gordon into the top-six and Lander into the top-nine, b) shift a player like Taylor Hall to centre, c) add someone via waivers or trade or d) plug in a Mark Arcobello or Andrew Miller on the second line. The latter seems the most likely of these options, and as Arcobello has professional experience he presumably has an edge on Miller.

Win the fourth-line job. This is a more difficult route for Arcobello because not only does he need to compete with Anton Lander and Andrew Miller, but also with Will Acton. Acton, who failed to hit the 20-point mark in the AHL, can’t touch Arcobello scoring-wise but he has familiarity with head coach Dallas Eakins and he could well win recall the way VandeVelde did in 2013 – by being a better fit for a specific role. The Oilers’ fourth-line centre will almost certainly be an integral part of the penalty kill, and Arcobello’s resume in that department is pretty thin.

Win a press box job. Given the Oilers’ depth on defence, it seems likely that the team will carry eight rearguards and 13 forwards. Arcobello adds scoring and versatility (he plays both centre and right wing) but he needs to top a group that includes Mike Brown, Ben Eager, Ryan Hamilton, Toni Rajala and all those centres mentioned earlier. It’s a tall order.

What He Is and It Means

I saw plenty of Arcobello during the NHL lockout, and I like a lot of what he does. He’s reasonably fast, shifty, has good hockey sense and a wealth of offensive ability; he has both a good shot and strong playmaking skills. He also plays a greasy game – he isn’t a sparkplug the way Jordin Tootoo is, but he goes to tough areas and he doesn’t back down from bigger players. The trouble is that he’s not only undersized (5’9”, 165 pounds) but he tended (at least when I watched him) to cheat for offence. Playing with people like Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi against AHL’ers, that’s not a terrible; against NHL’ers it’s liable to be costly.

Because the team seems content to stand pat at centre, he is the best in-house candidate for promotion to a top-six role if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins misses time to start the year. The Oilers’ decision to stand pat is one that could land him in premium minutes; minutes that could serve as the springboard to an NHL career.

Recently around the Nation Network

Rather than criticize the five-year extension Dave Nonis just landed in Toronto, Steve Dangle looks at the general manager’s record and asks commenters to explain what there has earned Nonis his new deal: 

Matthew Lombardi traded to Phoenix for a pick. I liked this deal. Cleared cap room. Hooray. Tim Connolly and Mike Komisarek assigned to the Marlies. Good. Joffrey Lupul locked up to a 5-year contract extension. He battled a lot of injuries, which is worrisome for such a long deal, but Lupul bounces back every time, and has put up some crazy points in this city. Holzer also locked up for another two. Claimed Frazer McLaren off waivers. I would have preferred if Nonis claimed Zach Boychuk or Jussi Jokinen off of waivers, but I won’t nitpick. It’s a waiver-wire pickup. Mike Brown and Dave Steckel traded for picks. Fine. Ryan O’Byrne acquired for a pick. Whatever.

Click the link above to read more. Otherwise, feel free to read some of my recent pieces:

  • Joy S. Lee

    JW – If RNH isn’t ready to on opening night wouldn’t it be better to have Arcobello between Hall and Eberle, rather than Yak and Perron? He has already played extensively with Hall and Ebs in OKC and fit in very well.Who knows if he will find the same instant chemistry with Perron and Yak?

  • Citizen David

    I know it will depend on training camp and the coaches decisions but at the moment MacT is thinking Miller will be the #2 until Nuge is back. Miller is his signing, he gushed about him in the last interview saying he’ll surprise at camp. I’m not overly optimistic but if the other option is Arcobello than Miller has a definite shot.

    Personally I’d like to see Lander get the 2 line and add defensive stability. Also it would tell is more about him. If you can’t put up points with Yakupov and Perron on your wings, you aren’t going to put up points.

    Action can play 4th line center.

  • Citizen David

    Hockey , like soccer , requires strong quarterbacking by the center or center half in soccer. We are three deep only at center , fine on L.W. , fine on R.Wing as long as Hemsky remains . Center is not our strong point and will dictate how well we do . Centers need to be proficient at both ends of ice to fascilitate positive results .Landers , Arcobello , Miller , Acton , and Smithson( if we still have him )is probably best of whats left . 10 game stint for Smithson was not enough to see if he fits 3-4 the role centerman – even though he can handle the big mans game , but not overly physical . My first posting, by the way, on this article .

  • Bucknuck

    I feel pretty nervous about the centre position, particularly after what happened last year.

    I really think they should add one more player, and subtract someone from the D in order to make it happen. A small move, but one that might make the difference between going 4-6 or 6-4 in the first ten games.

    I believe that Lander is a player, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a backup plan, and three minor leaguers aren’t much of a backup plan in my opinion.

  • Alex T.

    Mac T said that he promised Arcobello a real shot this year when he re-signed. Based on that, I’d like to see this plan tried for our bottom six.

    4th line – Arcobello centers Smyth & Hemsky. Limited minutes against the other team’s 4th lines. I think scoring goals gives the team far more “energy” than cycling the puck and looking for staged fights. Too much salary for a 4th line, but you got em, may as well get some offense out of them.

    When we are playing heavier teams, give Hemsky and Smyth the night off and play Brown & Eager.

    3rd line – Gordon centers Lander and ?? Lander needs to learn how to be an NHL caliber shut down player. He could be Gordon’s shadow/protégé for half a season or more. Gordon is good at face offs. Which means he knows the tendencies of other centers and the linesmen in the circle. And he knows how to instruct his wingers to aid him. Send Lander (and maybe Acton) to Gordon school. Let’s get some depth in this role in case of injury.

    I’d run this 3rd/checking line against the other teams top line. Remember line matching? Mac T used to do it.

    • Just to be sure I have this right – Your plan is to give Hemsky 4th line minutes and sit him once in a while in favor of Brown and Eager while giving Lander a shut down role?

      This is worse than the Dubinsky worship from earlier.

      • Alex T.

        TigerUnderGlass

        Do you think playing Hemsky in a 3rd line checking role is good asset management? If he isn’t worth a bag of pucks now, he won’t be worth a single puck by trade deadline if you pair him with Boyd Gordon.

        Dallas Eakins stated he will get to know what motivates each player. What will he learn from Hemsky? I’m guessing Hemsky would like a chance to prove he can play top six on some other team.

        Set him up to succeed and he may be a valuable asset by trade deadline.

        And we fans would succeed by not having to watch the Mike Brown and the like 4th line show.

        As for giving Lander a shut down role: I said “develop” Lander into a shut down role. Last year two injuries left our cupboard bare. Teach Lander and others how to play NHL shut down. They can’t learn that in the AHL.

        The Oilers need to learn to develop their own players. Their current record is lacking.

        • I can’t tell if you’re serious at this point.

          You believe “asset management” means giving a high end offensive player with a long track record of quality 4th line minutes?

          So you can’t play Hemsky on the 3rd line because it’s a dedicated hard checking line, but if you play Lander there it’s no longer a hard checking line? Got it.

          Your plan to manage assets is possibly the worst plan I have ever heard, and that includes playing Jacques and/or Eager on the 1st line.

          “Hey guys, lets give Hemsky 8 minutes a game and play him with garbage so he can increase his trade value.”

          Who the hell said Hemsky isn’t worth as bag of pucks?

          • Alex T.

            TigerUnderGlass

            Do you really think Hemsky will be motivated to play with a non-scoring centre on a checking line? That’s not the Hemsky I’ve been watching for years.

            So ya, play him on the 4th. If he wants more minutes, make him earn them. And I’m not playing him with garbage. I’m playing him with Smyth whom he’s had success with in the past. And I’m giving Smyth some nights off to rest the aging body. And I’m playing him with a center who actually knows where the opposition’s net is.

            What’s your 4th line? 3 Jacques skating around trying to find a dance partner? Or 3 Petrell’s trying to be non-factors?

          • Huh. I say “Hemsky is too good to be on the 4th line” and you hear “we should play terrible players on the 4th line”. You should get that checked.

            Question: Who are the wings on this all-defense-all-the-time-check-but-never-score 3rd line you want? You mentioned Lander. Hilarious. Is the other one Jones then? I don’t know who else it could be.

            Listen to yourself. Your big plan is to create a defensive checking line with Lander and Jones on it. Then take a guy who is being paid 5M to score (who has always done so when not injured) and take away all his minutes for no reason except in the name of “asset management”, effectively demolishing his value just when they most want to trade him. Brilliant. Who do you think we should take #1 overall next year?

  • StHenriOilBomb

    Conventional wisdom says NHL teams need to have players of a specific size (6’+, 200 lbs+), and a lot of teams are built this way.

    MacT should just go for it this year. Play a SuperSmurf lineup, all sub-6′, 180 lbs or less.

    • Clyde Frog

      Conventional wisdom?

      So that is all that is required to win, be over 6 feet tall and tip the scales over 200?

      The players actually HAVE to at some point be able to play hockey…

      Also would it surprise you that 8 out of 10 of our forwards are within a few pounds of the magical 200 pound line that turns a hockey player into a good hockey player… (In the eyes of the fans)

      As well all our “smurfs” are within 1 inch of 6 feet…

      The Height thing is the biggest joke and the most lazy way for fans to whine. Honestly, production and positive play should be how a player is measured… The height should never be a conversation, it does nothing for a player.

      Weight is one way if the player is willing to use it, for example Mike Brown is barely over 200 pounds and 5’11” but tanks around the ice like a much “bigger” player.

      Yes, having a big man willing to mix it up who can play would be nice.

      But ignoring the production of the current group is silly; acting like they will lose simply because the other team is taller is silly….

      • Clyde Frog

        Actually, I decided that this would be a great “moneypuck” experiment. Every team wants prospects with size and skill. Everyone wants the next Lucic, for example but they’re almost impossible to find.

        Players like Arcobello and Rajala are de-valued because they are less than ideal size. They’re easier to find and acquire for lower rates. So why not try a different model?

        It could be like football, where some teams go to the draft for size, while others are focused on speed and skill. Ideally, it would be great to find players with size and skill and speed. But in the absence of that, finding players with speed and skill might make for an interesting lineup. I’d be more interested when I go to games to see how the experiment goes.

      • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

        Our mascot could be that “little red train that could”……..( can’t remember the name of that train).

        Clearly though…there is a large contingent of posters here who believe that size does not matter…Hayak, RJ, Clyde Frog etc…..which is interesting….

        I don’t agree with them…..but it would be interesting to put together a roster of the best small players of all time with some balance of skill and grit…smaller guys who play big….

        Example:

        St. Louis, Datsyuk,

        Theoren Fluery, Yvan Cournyea (Habs guy),

        Stan Jonathan, Tie Domi,

        Yzerman (?)

        Who are the small puck moving defensemen?

        Small goalies?

        Help me out here…..who else fits the bill?

        • Spydyr

          Sure and have them play the best big players of all time.

          The big players win most times.

          If you have players with the exact same skill set the bigger player will win most times.

          Hockey is a physical game especially in the playoffs.Size does matter.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Conventional wisdom is for stat guys. Martin St Louis, Gallagher,Gionta and others prove that size is not a factor when evaluating the fight in the dog. If Arcobello can play. Play him. We certainly have our share of 6’ft plus 200 plus guys who have not measured up to conventional wisdom. All Arcobello has asked for is a shot. Fair enough. Could be the answer on the 2cd PP unit. Certainly we can say that Hemsky has not done that so far in his career.