The start to the 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers season has not gone as planned. An understatement to be sure.
Positives are few and far between with many players underachieving or simply injured already.
One of those rare bright spots has been the play of centre Mark Arcobello.
Expected to be a stopgap up the middle until the return of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, Arcobello has exceeded those expectations in the early going.
Coming into today he is the unlikely scoring leader for the Oilers tied with Nugent-Hopkins with 12 points and one ahead of Jordan Eberle.
He leads the team with 10 assists and scored his first two goals of the year in a 4-3 OT win in Florida last night, including the game winner.
Injuries gave Arcobello the opportunity to start the year in a top six role for the team and continuing injuries have allowed him to stay in the lineup. He is making the best of his opportunity and will make it a very difficult decision for Dallas Eakins when and if the Oilers have a full complement of healthy players.
At 25 years old, Arcobello is certainly not a rookie in the traditional sense, but still in his mid-twenties, he could be a hidden gem for the Oilers. A Yale University grad, he has put his time in at the minor league level. He played a year in Stockton (ECHL) and then three for the Oklahoma City Barons (AHL) before getting his shot this season.
He had an impressive season in 2012-13 as the Barons leading scorer with 68 points in 74 games and another 20 playoff points to lead the team. He also showed great chemistry with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall as he centred the two stars during the NHL lockout when Nugent-Hopkins left to play for Canada’s WJC team.
At 5’9″ 165lbs, he is not a physically imposing player, but is quick, shifty with the puck and shows great on-ice awareness. He has shown to be effective both on the power play and penalty kill which shows his versatility and attention to detail.
The issue with Arcobello in terms of a future in Edmonton is that the team already has an overabundance of similar players. Smaller offensively gifted players are not something that the Oilers need in excess. Even with the recent return of Sam Gagner, Arcobello has seen his role diminished and has had to play some games on the wing and that takes him away from his strengths.
He has shown to be an NHL calibre player and has proven that he can produce at the highest level. The question will be, when the Oilers get healthier does Arcobello become expendable and a victim of the numbers game, essentially being sent down or moved. Or does his emergence allow the Oilers to move one of their other, higher profile skilled players to bring in an asset in another area.
A telling indicator is that as of last week, the team still had not given him the go ahead to move out of the hotel and find permanent lodgings. Perhaps a sign they are looking for a larger sample size before forming a decision.
In the meantime, the Oilers are far from healthy and they need all the production they can get from Arcobello. He has certainly staked his claim on a regular spot in the lineup, now he’ll have to continue to produce to make the decision that much harder on the Oilers brass.