Can Mark Acrobello Replace Sam Gagner?

With only one pre-season game remaining and the Edmonton Oilers trimming their roster, the forward lines are slowly starting to resemble what we may see on October 1st when the puck drops on the new NHL season.  Despite the lines starting to come together, the Oilers will still head into October without their top two centremen in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, both recovering from surgery.

photo (1)To date the Oilers have not made any outside roster moves to the degree of trading for a centremen or claiming one on waivers, meaning what we see is likely what we’ll get.  Taylor Hall on the first line, that’s a given and judging by his play in the pre-season, it’s not all bad.

Mark Arcobello has been centering the second line of late and when listening to Craig MacTavish last night on TSN, it sounds like this is his opportunity to lose.  Is it safe to say we can pencil in Arcobello as the second line centre? It would appear so.

But can he replace Sam Gagner for the next month or so until Nugent-Hopkins is ready to return and give the club some much needed depth up the middle?

If last night’s game is any indication, the Oilers second line is already starting to gel and Arcobello is fitting right in with Jordan Eberle and David Perron on his side.  We know Hall, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth will be the designated first line and after last night’s showing, Arcobello, Perron and Eberle deserve another shot together.

The trio had a huge part in the Oilers 5-3 win over the Rangers last night with Arcobello chipping in a pair of assists, finishing with a plus-1 rating while skating to over fifteen minutes of ice-time.

Arcobello has the speed to play with both Eberle and Perron.  Truth be told he has the speed to play with anybody on the Oilers.  Given Gagner isn’t the most physical player along with his lack of size, it’s easy to make Arcobello the replacement on those fronts.

But perhaps where Gagner can’t be replaced is in the face-off circle.  Last night Arcobello won just 38% of his draws and on Monday against the Winnipeg Jets he won 44%.  The game before that, just 38% again.  A concern is growing here.

One of the frequent commenters here at Oil on Whyte that goes by the name Cody Anderson had this to say when discussing Acrobello taking Gagner’s position on the second line:

If you are playing him in Gagner’s role where he is fed softer minutes and put with elite wingers I think Acrobello will score at a nice clip and may very well create trade value for himself after Nuge and Gagner are healthy.

Agreeing with Cody’s assessment, perhaps Arcobello can hold the fort down for the short-term, generate some interest from another club and perhaps bring trade value for the Oilers.

It’s safe to say that he’s going to get a chance to produce on the second line and it won’t be for just a game or two.  Expect to see Arcobello centering Eberle and Perron for at least the first five or six games.  If he can’t produce through that stretch of opportunity then the Oilers will be forced to acquire a legitimate centre.

Let’s hope Arcobello can bridge that gap and avoid having to part ways with any draft picks or assets.

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Tags: Edmonton Oilers Mark Arcobello Sam Gagner

  • Cody Anderson

    Hey Derek, I pretty much have to comment when you reference me in the article.
    When it was just Nuge out I thought there was a good chance Acrobello would take the centre role between Hall and Eberle. I think everyone except Hall wanted to see him at centre and so far he has looked solid.
    I think Acrobello is a poor man’s Gagner and on a small team like the Oil probably would only have a place in our top 6. Gagner is a small, offensively skilled centre that is weak on the dot. Acrobello is a smaller, offensively skilled centre that is even weaker on the dot.
    I don’t think there is any question we are stronger with Gagner in the 2c role, but I would be willing to put money that on this line he is able to produce at a 0.6-0.7 points per game pace until Nuge is back. Luckily both Perron and Ebs are defensively responsible. Let’s hope this line can be somewhat sheltered and put up lopsided numbers while injuries heal.
    Ideally we can then trade Acrobello for a strong 2 way forward to help with the bottom 6.

    • Derek Stykalo

      Couple Arcobello with one of our NHL ready d-men and suddenly the return could be a decent one. Of course the whole thing lingers on Arcobello being able to produce and playing with Ebs and Perron should help that. The big concern I have are the faceoffs. We’ve seen all too often in the past what losing a draw can lead to and sometimes one goal early in the game can be the difference maker.

      As always, thanks for the comments.

      • Cody Anderson

        Believe it or not I am more concerned about his size and ability to fight off checkers on the boards than his ability to win draws.
        Obviously, the team that wins the draw has an initial possession advantage, but it is not like Accrobello is stepping in for a person who wins 60% consistently. Gagner is usually between 42 and 45% in the dot. I would expect Accrobello to be somewhere around 40% in the dot. That means less than 1 additional faceoff loss per game. Couple that with the fact that Acrobello has been given stronger wingers than Gagner has ever had, and I think you will find possession numbers of the 2nd line will actually improve over last year by quite a bit.

  • BillHK

    Replace? No, but hold down the fort and be about 80% as effective, Yes. Hopefully the Oil can stay ahead of the bottom (Calgary), by the time RNH gets back and be around .500 (including OTL and SOL) for when Gagner is back. That would be within striking distance of a playoff spot I suppose.