WASHINGTON, DC -Mark Arcobello may not have been a household name in Edmonton at the start of the season.
He wasn't a first round draft pick. He wasn't a big name free agent signing and four seasons ago he was in the East Coast Hockey League, flying under the radar after a successful career at Yale University.
Undrafted, undersized and under-appreciated, the five-foot-eight centre has now begun to open eyes for the Oilers as he has built confidence and has adjusted to the NHL game.
"It's still early," said Arcobello. "I've still got a lot of work to do but so far, so good. I feel like if I can keep progressing and keep getting more confidence on the ice then it's only going to go up. I'm just going to focus on the next game and earning the next shift."
Yes, it is early.
In five games this season, Arcobello is tied for the team-high in scoring with five points. His plus-minus of four is the best on the team and he had his coming of age moment as an NHL player last night in Toronto with an impressive showing, headlined by three assists.
"I felt pretty good out there. I feel more confident every game. It's still a work in progress, I'm still trying to take it one game at a time and one shift at a time."
Arcobello took the scenic route to the NHL.
The forward played in college for four years. He posted a successful campaign at an Ivy League school but went undrafted.
He went to the ECHL, playing with the Oilers then affiliate, the Stockton Thunder. With the Thunder, Arcobello showed enough to get a chance to play with the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League.
With the Barons, Arcobello took leaping strides forward becoming an offensive catalyst for the primary development stop for Edmonton's young prospects.
"He's a really smart player," said Oilers star winger Jordan Eberle. "I think that's one of his best attributes. He sees the ice really well and he can read the plays. A lot of guys look at him and see his stature and how small he is but he competes hard and he does well in the corners and he's good defensively."
Eberle played with Arcobello in OKC during the NHL work stoppage last season. The two took the AHL by storm and the scoring tandem was one of the best in the AHL.
The 25-year-old NHL hopeful finished the 2012-2013 season with 43 points (17-26-43).
"With the loss of (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) when we were down in the American League, Arco stepped in and played with (Taylor Hall) and I and in much cases, we did better," Eberle said with a laugh. "He's been doing well up here and I assume he'll just get better with the experience."
But that was last season and the NHL is a different league. Arcobello has had to prove himself all over again and he has.
"Arcobello has quietly gone about his business here and continues to fight for a spot," said Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "Boy, you cheer for those guys. You cheer for them. A guy that played at Yale, was in the American League. It's not like he's a six-foot-four centreman. He's fighting for every minute and every inch of ice that he gets and he's producing. I'm excited for him and we hope that he can keep it going."
Mark Arcobello celebrates an Oilers goal last night in Toronto.
"It's motivating to see a guy come up from the East Coast League to the AHL, done well there, then obviously he's in the NHL now," said Eberle. "You're just happy to play with him and I think he's just going to get better with experience and confidence you get when playing in the NHL and doing well."
Arcobello's contract was up at the end of last season and with the year he had in OKC he would have had options elsewhere. But for the Oilers young centre, there was no other place he wanted to be.
"That's why I came back," said Arcobello."I knew there was an opportunity. I want to give myself the best chance to play in the NHL as long as possible so coming back was a no-brainer."
It's a long season and Edmonton will be getting one of their top centres back from injury in Sam Gagner which will lead to some personnel decisions. But you can't fault Arcobello for wanting to make it tough on the team to cut him. After all, he's earning it.