Context and Mark Arcobello

One of the Oilers’ pleasant surprises this year has been the play of centre/right wing Mark Arcobello. The minor-league journeyman got an opportunity early thanks to some injuries at centre, and made the most of it, playing so well that it was impossible for the Oilers to demote him to the minors.

Given that Edmonton has to make a decision on Arcobello by the end of this season, it’s worth looking at his season in a little more detail. Are there linemates who drive his results? Does he play well with everybody?

The Chart

I have been recording Edmonton line combinations all year, as well as even-strength scoring chances. Because of that, we can easily see how Arcobello has performed in combination with given wingers.

With Skill

Playing with even one skill player on his line, Arcobello has been exceptional, scoring at a 53-point pace over an 82-game season. That’s a good number, and it actually undersells his play; he isn’t a pure finisher (50 goals on 494 career AHL shots, just over 10.0% at that level) but even so his current 1-for-43 stretch on those lines isn’t likely to continue simply because even the worst NHL players convert on more shots than that. He’s averaging almost two shots per game in that role, so the goals will come.

The scoring chance numbers are excellent too, with only three combinations seeing him finish below the break-even mark. He, Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky got filled in on a night where the Oilers were crushed by Vancouver, he struggled in a tough minutes role in place of Boyd Gordon, and then on a line with a struggling Yakupov and minor-leaguer Ryan Hamilton he finished one scoring chance below 0.500.

That’s it. Every other line combination has been 0.500 or better in terms of scoring chances on a team that’s been lit up this season.

At Right Wing

Superficially, Arcobello’s numbers when on the right wing of the Boyd Gordon-centered defensive line (five games, two points, minus-five) aren’t good, but when we look at the scoring chances he’s actually been doing just fine.

This is particularly impressive given the assortment of left wings he’s played with in that role. There is Ryan Jones, who cleared waivers and had a minor-league stint this year. There are Linus Omark and Ryan Hamilton, two players who have spent most of the year in the minors. There is Jesse Joensuu, who would be in the minors if he didn’t stand 6’4”.

The evidence suggests that Arcobello would do just fine as the primary right wing and second faceoff man on a defensive zone line. His shot totals even went up in that role this year.

With Grinders

It is as fourth-line centre that Arcobello’s numbers fall of a cliff. His shot totals drop, his offence goes away and his line gets out-chanced. Pretty grim, except that it isn’t.

Arcobello’s problems are confined to his time on a line with Luke Gazdic. Playing with Ryan Jones and Jesse Joensuu he managed four shots in two games and his line out-chanced the opposition 6-2. With Gazdic, Arcobello has just two shots in five games and the Oilers are out-chanced 16-7.

That sounds bad, but it’s actually a step forward for Gazdic. With scoring chances counted for every game save the Oilers’ home match against Philadelphia at the end of December (which, if this cold holds up, I’ll grade today) Edmonton has been out-chanced by a 58-23 margin with Gazdic on the ice. So the comparison actually looks like this:

  • Gazdic with Arcobello: +7/-16, 30.4 percent of chances are Oilers chances
  • Gazdic without Arcobello: +16/-42, 27.6 percent of chances are Oilers chances

Gazdic has served as a millstone, dragging the rest of the fourth line down with him all season, and he’s done the same with Arcobello (I should note that the last three games have seen a dramatic turnaround in Gazdic’s play; he has been better in all areas and it’s showed up in a +9/-7 on-ice scoring chances number. Two of those games came with Arcobello at centre; the other last night came with Ryan Smyth).

Conclusion

This season, Mark Arcobello has made everybody around him better. When a guy drives scoring chances like that, and particularly when he can win faceoffs and kill penalties and never backs down from a physical confrontation, the fact that he’s 5’8” can’t be the determining factor. He can fill-in on any line, at right wing or at centre and be trusted in all three zones.

In one way, it is a testament to the work being done by the coaches in Oklahoma City, since this wasn’t the player Arcobello was when he joined the team halfway through 2010-11. In a much larger way, it’s a testament to the person Arcobello is.

Guys with political science degrees from Yale have plenty of options, and the temptation to do something else must have been tremendous. Instead he worked his way up from the ECHL, turned himself into the kind of player who could do whatever the situation called for and forced a league obsessed with size to keep him on.

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