MEN IN THE MIDDLE

Dallas Eakins 2

A
cynic might suggest that Edmonton Oilers’ coach Dallas Eakins had the names of
the centres he intended to keep on his 23-man roster written in ink before
training camp started, despite what he said today.

After
eight final roster cuts they are – no need for a drum roll – Ryan
Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Mark Arcobello and Boyd Gordon, a foursome I’d suggest
95 per cent of fans and media in town had slotted in before camp began. The
only surprise is they’ll keep career minor-leaguer Will Acton as an extra
forward because he plays centre and kills penalties.

Those
are the four centres, in order, I had pegged to make the team in an item I
wrote Sept. 18. I’m guessing you had them, too, although there was a fair
amount of buzz among the fan base about Bogdan Yakimov, who was very impressive
but was sent to Oklahoma City of the AHL today.

Predictable?
Absolutely, but Eakins insisted straight-faced today the top four spots were
filled on merit, based on training camp – which is a fib unless you think RNH
and Boyd Gordon actually had to earn their spots and that Draisaitl wasn’t
going to make it unless he seized up and fainted on day one.

WHAT
HE SAID

Mark Arcobello

“It’s the group that won the spots,” Eakins said,
sounding less-than-convincing. 
“We only have so many centres in
our organization and those were the guys, with Nuge and Gordon and Draisaitl,
Arcobello and Will Acton. They were the guys that we deemed that had won the
spots.

“In
the end, I feel good about it. Nuge had an exceptional camp. Boyd is stepping
out of his comfort zone, making a few more plays. He’s been great on our
penalty kill.

“Arcobello
came on as camp went along. He can fill a couple of different roles. He can
help us a little on the penalty kill. He can make plays, fill in on the power
play, where we have lots of options. We have no less than eight or nine
forwards who fancy themselves as power play guys.

“Leon,
obviously, can make the plays and has got size. Will Acton can kill penalties
and play the wing. We feel good about it right now. I think everybody feels
good about everything right now. We’ll see how it goes into the season. If we have to
make changes, we’ll make the changes.”

I
don’t know if everybody “feels good about everything.” A lot of people, myself included,
would rather have seen the second and third slots contested by somebody
other than Draisaitl and Arcobello. That, clearly, wasn’t going to happen when GM Craig MacTavish couldn’t
land a veteran centre to add to the camp mix. Yakimov, though, added some
intrigue.

ABOUT
DRAISAITL

Draisaitl, Leon

While
some people made the case that the Oilers take their time with Draisaitl and
return him to junior no matter what, I wasn’t against him being given the
opportunity to earn a roster spot on merit. Given his showing, one can argue
that’s what happened, although the fact is, the job was his to lose.

“I
think we’ll have a game plan going in with him to a game,” Eakins said of
bringing along Draisaitl, who showed some chemistry with Nail Yakupov in Vancouver
Saturday and, for the most part, has looked like he belongs in camp and
pre-season.

“Depending
on what team we’re playing, what their personnel looks like, who he’d be
matched up against. If it’s something that a big, red flag is going up, then
it’s my job to try to protect him from that. If it’s a night where we think he
can handle it, so be it.

“Let’s
not forget. It’s never about one player on the ice. It’s almost like the Corsi
debate a little bit. Do we need to protect Leon? Well, he’s got four of his
teammates out there with him. They should be looking to protect him as well.

“It
depends who he’s playing against, too. This isn’t just about one player. A
whole line goes out there. Right now, he’ll have a couple of guys on his wings
(Benoit Pouliot and Yakupov) that have played in the league and he should have
a fairly good pair of defensemen behind him as well.”

MY
TAKE

93-RNH-13

The
lack of experience in the two and three holes with Draisaitl and Arcobello is a
concern, but that’s been the case since the Oilers opened camp with the group
they did. This collection of centres is, to borrow from a phrase, exactly what
we thought they would bet.

RNH
has benefitted from having a full summer to work out without the shoulder
issues that required surgery. Draisaitl hasn’t looked the least bit
overwhelmed. He’s a gifted play-maker and deft passer who might have something
going with Yakupov. Now, the competition gets tougher.

Arcobello
is versatile enough to move up a spot if Draisaitl needs to be spelled off. He
can contribute offensively and hold his own defensively. Gordon will do the
heavy-lifting with defensive zone starts whether he’s playing between Matt
Hendricks and Jesse Joensuu or moving up based on match-ups and in-game
situations.

For
better or worse, this is the group just about everybody expected.

Listen
to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason
Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • pkam

    To those who worry we might lose Pitlick to the waiver wire, your worry is over.

    To be honest, I don’t think for one moment that any team is going to claim him.

  • Zarny

    Denial isn’t a river in Egypt. The Oilers dilemma is the same today as it was a month ago.

    Nuge is the only option that can play top line. Gordon is the only option that can play a defensive role.

    Draisaitl’s been OK so far against prospects and waiver wire fodder. A softer minutes line with Pouliot and Yakupov could work well and give Yakupov a good chance to start strong. However, they will get absolutely bludgeoned against top competition outside the offensive zone and are not a 2nd line option.

    Which leaves Arcobello as the problem. He did not have a good pre-season. He’s not a 2C. A line with Perron and Purcell needs to be able to take some heat when the 1st line isn’t rolling. With Arcobello that isn’t going to happen and that line is a neutered version of what they could be.

    What MacT does about it ultimately comes down to expectations. This roster has no shot at playoffs. At best, they can be one of the better also-rans finishing 18-20th.

    However, the logjam with Marincin, Klefbom and Nurse on the left side is evident. They are all far too young and inexperienced to play all 3 unless you like losing.

    This gives MacT an opportunity. There was always going to be an odd-man out. It’s time to package Marincin with picks to upgrade 2C.

  • Zarny

    The Titanic chair shuffle on the 3 AND 4 lines
    dont matter that much. The 3 main areas of concern
    are: 1. Getting GA down from last year.. meaning improvement in defensive play in all area of the ice,gaining puck possesion in your own end and carrying the play into the OZ .Cut down the turn overs.

    2. Improve the power play by 50%. I hope they are working on this week. Appreciate there were players in the preseason not bound for the team, but the PP was UGLY./

    3. Show up for every shift, every period and every game. No more of the its a young/kids team.Some of these guys are in their 3-4-5 years in the NHL.
    4.This is still a very soft team, specially on the back end.

    • Zarny

      Regarding #2. The focus on the PP is a red herring.

      The Oilers’ PP last year scored 46 PPG over 271 attempts (17%).

      Improving the PP by 23 G would result in a PP that was successful 25.5% of the time…or a full 2% better than any PP last year.

      That simply isn’t going to happen. The only teams to top 25% in the last decade have been Wsh and Detroit.

      The difference between the Oilers’ 21st ranked PP last year and 4th place was 8 PPG. An additional 8 G is not going to make a dent when the Oilers’ overall goal differential last year was -67.

      • Anton CP

        Did you factor in SHA? Improving PP is not just trying to get more goals, a proper set up of PP should also prevent giving up SHA. Considering Oilers were dead last on SHA.