By now the lineups for tonight’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs have been finalized and are at the printer so they can be included in the program. Sam Gagner returns to the Oilers after missing the team’s first 13 games to start the year and will no doubt provide another offensive threat to the lineup.
Earlier today we learnt that Gagner will be slotted in at centre on the top line alongside Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov, essentially displacing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who is bumped to the second line. A natural centre, RNH then bumped Mark Arcobello to the wing, a highly contested move amongst Oilers’ fans today on Twitter.
The 25-year old rookie has been impressive so far this season with the Oilers and the increase in ice-time and opportunity to play with the team’s top players without question is a profound reason for that.
But take nothing away from Acrobello, he’s earned this shot. Not only does he lead all Oilers’ forwards in hits despite being one of the smaller players on the club, he’s also among the best on the team in faceoff percentages at 52.7%. Throw in the fact that he’s been playing responsible hockey in his own end and suddenly moving him out of the centre position could be a liability for this team.
Then again, having him support Nugent-Hopkins on the wing and be available to slide in and take some draws if needed is a great backup plan. At least that’s what the Oilers will go with tonight according to an article on their team’s website, courtesy of Chris Wescott.
Nugent-Hopkins has only won 41.8% of his faceoffs since returning from shoulder surgery and if he struggles on the dot tonight then moving Arcobello in to take a few draws is a great insurance policy to have.
On the Gagner front, having him play up the middle, his natural position also seems to make sense given he’ll be wearing a full face shield for the next couple of months to avoid having his jaw take a jarring hit. Playing centre versus the wing will help him avoid the consistent banging and crashing along the boards that could lead to a vulnerable hit and further complicate matters with his jaw. Something the Oilers don’t need.
But there will be those that still want Gagner on the wing, no matter how terrible of an experiment it was the last time the Oilers tried it. Arcobello has won over Oilers fans with his steady play this year and proving he can play defensive hockey has gone a long way in doing so.
Should the Oilers consider moving Gagner to the wing and have Arcobello play centre or is the current setup the way to go? Take part in our daily poll and let’s see where the results end up.