Dallas Eakins has “a real comfort level” with Mark Arcobello

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Sometimes NHL teams make lineup decisions for reasons other than a pure assessment of each individual’s merit, and on Friday Dallas Eakins admitted that Mark Arcobello – who is favoured to win a spot in the team’s top-nine out of training camp – likely deserved a better shot than he was given a year ago.

Eakins

Dallas Eakins 4

Asked about the increase in Arcobello’s weight (he’s now listed at 5’8”, 172 pounds, as opposed to 165 pounds last season), Edmonton’s head coach volunteered some of his thinking on the player:

Arco has the skillset to [make plays]. Arco played very well for us last year. When you go through a season, sometimes guys who are playing well, you’re trying to get others to play well at the same point. He was probably unjustly taken out of the lineup. I have a real comfort level with him. He certainly went down to the American Hockey League and played very, very well. I’m not really ever worried about how much Arco weighs; it’s about how fast you are, how powerful you are. He’s shown that he can do it here. We’ll see where it goes through camp for him.

Eakins didn’t reference Arcobello on Thursday when he talked about the Oilers only having two bona fide NHL centremen, but his comments on Friday have to be encouraging for the player. The coach acknowledged that the pivot played well last year, suggested that on merit he deserved better than the usage he got and referenced his incredible success in the AHL after his demotion.

“I have a real comfort level with him” and “He’s shown that he can do it here” strongly suggest that Arcobello is a player that Eakins is comfortable using in 2014-15.

What Changed?

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Some might argue that Eakins is making a virtue out of necessity, that there is no point in talking down a guy who he has little choice but to use, and further that if he really believed in the player he would not have demoted him last season. There might be some truth in that, but it’s important to recognize the way things have changed over the course of a year.

The most crucial change involves the team rather than the individual. In 2012-13, the Oilers had an established, veteran depth chart at centre: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner were top-six guys, Boyd Gordon centered the checking line and the only spot open was a job in the middle of the “energy” line. Arcobello got a shot as a fill-in in the top-six and showed really well, but he wasn’t going to displace a veteran on the basis of a half-season’s work and he simply isn’t a fit for an energy line. Could Eakins have bailed on Gagner? Sure, but given the player’s history and circumstances (he was coming off injury) his decision to stick with the veteran was understandable.

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The big year-to-year change was the removal of the energy line; the Oilers still have some energy line guys on the roster (Luke Gazdic, Kevin Westgarth on a tryout) but they no longer have a designated unit to kill five or six minutes a game running around hitting things. Gordon’s in the same job he was a year ago (he had the second-toughest zone start in the entire NHL in 2013-14 and regular linemate Matt Hendricks was in the top-10) but we’re now calling that the “fourth” line and a new unit (we’re calling it the “third” but it’s best not to get hung up on that) has opened up which will be expected to outscore the opposition. It’s basically the same lineup slot that Arcobello could have won last year, except that he was ineligible because the primary requirement was hitting things rather than outscoring. The loss of a veteran (Gagner) doesn’t hurt his chances, but that isn’t the lineup spot he’s penciled in for; he’s set for the same basic role he had last year but on a line geared to his strengths.

Even as the lineup has been reconfigured into a more Arcobello-friendly pattern, the player himself has shown a lot. Last year he was coming off what was basically a point-per-game season in a lockout-toughened AHL; this year he’s coming off a run where he ran up 28 points in just 15 games. Last year he had one game of NHL experience; this year he has half a season in the rearview mirror in which he scored at a 50-point pace when used on a scoring line.

Given the changes to the team structure and the player’s track record in 2013-14, it’s easy to understand why the same coach who demoted Arcobello to the minors is saying encouraging things about him now.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • slats432

    Really rooting for Arcobello. In points per minute at even strength, he outperformed RNH last year. 28 points in 15 AHL games is amazing. We could have something very special here. Hopefully he is given every opportunity to showcase his immense talent.

    • ubermiguel

      He’s got as much talent as many NHLers but it’s his heart, hustle and hockey smarts that got him from the ECHL to the NHL. I think a guy that earned his way in into the NHL the hard way is great to have in the dressing room.

  • Concur

    Great perspective Willis! Do you expect Arco’s line to get similar minutes to Leon’s line?

    Wouldn’t we then, in effect, be playing without a true second line and instead have three varied purpose third lines?

  • Concur

    A lot of writers keep penciling Daisatl as the teams 2C. I think they are wrong and that will be taken by Arcobello. He showed he could handle it in a small sample size last year and I beleive he can do so again. Leon will get the soft minutes and therefore his TOI will be less the Arco’s.

    Possibly nearer the end of the season Leon will start getting increased minutes but he will be sheltered to start the season.

  • slats432

    Arcobello deserves a shot, and I don’t think any Oilers fan will be upset when he does get it. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and tries to prove himself every shift. I’m predicting 45-55 points for him this year.

  • Concur

    I expect Arcobello to do as fine as last year. Last years biggest travesty was his treatment, and subsequent demotion. Now they have an analytics guy there who can actually point of to these dinosaurs his underlying performance.

    When you consider Arco’s play last year it was impressive. I remember the 10 points in 13 games, and was enjoying his faceoff abilities, positive effect play on his line, defensive acumen, and low and behold great zone finish.

    I’m looking forward to Arco getting 16-17 minutes a game and pp and pk time. I would frankly use him on the second pp unit, and sometimes on the first unit if Nuge has face-off issues.

  • Spoils

    you see. after drinking Kool Aid hard all summer long a center chart that includes a rookie and a guy who is 5’8 172lbs with limited NHL experience in the hardest division in the world may seem reasonable.

    But, they should be competing for one spot on the third line. We should have a real NHL #2C and we should go get that in a trade using prospects, picks, cap space, and maybe even one of our D/Wingers.

    I sincerely hope MacT is just waiting to see how it goes on the off chance that lightning strikes twice and they both deserve spots. Or to see if Klef or Nurse frees up a Dman to move.

    holding my breath.

    • I completely agree that there should be one spot at centre for the duo of Draisaitl and Arcobello, with Draisaitl getting sent back to junior if he isn’t good enough and Arcobello getting RW on the Gordon line or the No. 13/14 forward slot if he loses the battle.

      Too late now, though.

      • bwar

        I also think that Arco would be a good backup to Gordon [ in case of injury]. Unless they see that as Landers spot,however Lander, is not that great in the circle.

      • Serious Gord

        Stauffer says that the oil can get a center sometime in October. Assuming that he speaks for more than a few in oiler management they are content to start the year with the centers they have at camp. Remarkable.

    • bazmagoo

      Really people which other team can Arco be a Top 6 fwd and Center in the West?!

      ANA with Getzlaff and Kesler

      COL with Duchene and MacKinonon?

      CHI with Toews and Rischards ?

      LA with Kopitar and Carter?

      Backes and Stastny?

      VAN with Sedin and Bonino – well the latter had 49 “actual” points not “projected had he played with scoring players”

      Please people put the rose coloured glasses down next to the Koolaid – if Arco comes out of the gate @ .70 ppg then get the package of him + Petry for a #2C ASAP!!!!

  • Spoils

    For the first time in 5 years there is a significant upgrade in depth at all positions except centre. If the centre position is filled internally that might not be all that bad why trade for someone that might not be as good as Arco, Lander or Draisatl. I don’t think we are doomed the overall added depth will help offset some of the centre deficiencies if there are any.

    • bazmagoo

      That sounds like an invite for everyone who dislikes this coach to go on a personal rampage of why he should not be the coach. Let’s give Eakins a fair chance and see what happens this season. Dallas is going to be the coach no matter where the fans comfort level is at least for right now.

        • Cain

          Agreed. And then Craig Ramsey steps in as head coach, like he should have been in the first place.

          No accident Ramsey was hired. A short rope for Eakins this year, he’d better produce some wins early.

          • bazmagoo

            I don’t buy this short rope for Eakins bit. I mean, I wish it were true, but oiler management is stubborn and like to pretend like they’re smarter than everyone else. I can easily see them riding Eakins all the way to the bottom of the league(again). They are comfortable their after all

          • Serious Gord

            This will be the battle again this season. Notice that no one is talking playoffs this year – they want to reduce expectations in order to build a firewall around management. My guess is they would have to finish as bad or worse than last year before anyone is fired.

            Finishing in the twenties is the new normal.

          • Serious Gord

            I can honestly see them finishing 30th, keeping the same management and coach. Going out a getting another 3-4 defenceman, couple new wingers and starting the cycle all over again

  • ubermiguel

    Arcobello’s play last year should earn him longer look.

    I anticipate his Dzone coverage to be far ahead of LD.

    However, at 26 years of age there should be limited expectations of marked improvement in his play based on normal development patterns.

  • Spoils

    The kool aid is flowing on this comment board.

    Here are some predictions to go along with this:

    -Draisaitl will earn the Calder, but it will go to a player from the east.

    -Yak will score 40 goals and finish the year on the top line (the #1s line).

    -Nurse and Klefbom will be in our top 4 D based on merit.

    -Scrivens will be a finalist for Vezina

    -Eakins coach of the year.

    No seriously MacT, go get us a #2C.

    • bazmagoo

      I second your predictions. But I’ll raise you Schultz wins the Norris.

      And Sheila Webber demands a trade to the Oilers.In his excitement Olé man six rings runs to the streets cheering only to be mugged by a 3rd tier Oilers fan. (AKA anyone who wears a flames jersey.)

      This 3rd tier fan is none other than… wait for it…………

      ..
      ..
      ..
      ..
      Brian Burke.

  • Spoils

    From where I sit, Arko, Lander are very good example of developing players
    to have a chance at an NHL career.

    Good patience with both players has helped
    the organization maybe find TWO centres
    that can play on the team for years.

  • bwar

    JW, can we get a summary of most interesting takeaways from last weekend analytics conference in Calgary that Vollman was at?

    I hear Flames might actually have some head space in this game. hehehe

  • bwar

    I would much rather have someone like Anisimov in the lineup. Having Arco as a 2nd line center isn’t going to do much for the team. I dont minf having him or lander as the extra man when someone gets injured. A trade needs to be made.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Should be interesting to watch his demeanor change when the seasons inevitable injuries set in. The Oil are thin up front before the first puck has been dropped. Can’t blame him for his made for the media statement though. Under his breath he has to be concerned going into this season. Poor guy is in way over his head.

  • Serious Gord

    IMO, Arco was a true and loyal soldier of the Oilers’ system (NHL & AHL) period. He did what he was asked of, he played hard and he used the linbemates he had to the best he could.

    Yepp!!! he outplayed Gagner and he did deserve a better fate. Contract and loyalty to Sammy is what hurt, along with his size.

    However, if he can again package his abilities and scoring with the Oilers just as he did in those 15 last reg season games with the Barons,…and if he can somehow get the best of Yak and Purcell going this season as a third line (or even Pouliot/Perron if switched), then I have absolutely no problem watching him play with the Oilers this year.

    The team (oilers must always use and/or go wioth the best players they have, either until another comes along and does better (Yakimov???) or thru and trade or waiever pickup.

    Anyways, i watched Theron Fleury piss me off for years playing for them Flames and he was not any bigger so….. lets get em back and I wish ya to have a great season Arco!!!!

  • bazmagoo

    Most have written off Joensuu, but personally I think if he’s healthy he takes the open spot on the 4th/tough minutes line. If Gazdic or Westgarth are in the lineup instead of Joensuu, I think Eakins should double shift some wingers for half of the ice time allotted to Gazzer. He can definitely knock some sense into the opposition, but he’s pretty lost out there otherwise. Or at least he was last season, I’m sure he’s improved.

    I’d way more comfortable with Arcobello in the lineup than I am with Draisaitl.

    Would also love to see Westgarth and Gazdic as the 13th/14th forwards, give us the option of having a goon line against Calgary! Most tough guys seem to be good in the room, plus the guys pushing for spots in the NHL really need to be playing big minutes, which they will only get down in the AHL.

  • bazmagoo

    Sounds like the Flames are keeping their main squad in Calgary tomorrow and sending their ‘rinky dinks ” ( B squad) to Edmonton for split squad games .

    • Serious Gord

      Good observation. Last year one of the big things missing was grit. Trainers coming to EDM packed really light on stuff to deal with bruises, nick and the like.

      Looking at what’s at camp, remarkably the team may be even less gritty than it was last year – bigger yes, but not grittier, less crash bang. Pouliot has basically been dropped by every NHL team he has played for because of lack of effort motivation (Elliotte friedman et Al). Fayne has 99 PIMs in 240 games.

      gadzic or Westgarth might get some playing time but if Johnathon is correct they will not have an energy line to play on – so even fewer minutes for that kind of player (that’s not to say I want more of jones and gadzic on the ice but that the top three lines have nil grit it seems and now there won’t be any backup. I wonder if that’s eakins decision or MacT/Klowe/katz?

  • bazmagoo

    I know it is early, but I am guessing Draisatil takes the #2 spot. All reports so far is that he is the real deal. He has some development, but his defense has already been commented on as a strength, and he already has a man sized body. Too of the hardest things to overcome for a rookie trying to break into the NHL lineup.

    Based on last years play, I think Arco can hold the #3 spot.

    I think Lander will find his way to AHL, and probably light it up there again. His future I think will depend on injuries this year. He better be ready this time to take full advantage if he does get the call up, as with the way the dpeth is shaping up, this could be his last kick at the can before he is a career AHLer.

    On the bright side, if Arco can contribute as well as he did last year, Yak can get it going, and Purcell add some stability to that line. I could see us finally achieving a lineup that can roll 4 lines. Something we have not had for 8 years.

    • bazmagoo

      Way too early to say Draisaitl takes a spot on the team over Lander. I’d say Arcobello is the most likely of the trio to stick with the big club after camp. But it’s 50/50 between big Leon and Anton in my opinion.

  • Serious Gord

    One other comment. I hope Pitlick gets a good look. Aside from preseason last year, Joensuu was invisible in nearly every game he played in.

    He is a big body, but I hate his quickness. With the other size we have added to our forwards, and playing with Hendricks and Gordan, I would rather see more of a spark plug type player in that role. Or alternatively, maybe Lander can get a look on the wing.