On Thursday night the top two rookie assist men in the NHL will meet at Rexall Place when Colorado takes on Edmonton. If you guessed Nathan MacKinnon was one of them you are correct. If you guessed Mark Arcobello you are also correct. Give yourself a pat on the back. Not for MacKinnon, because that one was the more obvious answer, but selecting Arcobello shows you're as sharp at a little trivia as the Edmonton centre has been on the ice.
This has been one of those 'feel good' stories that has come out of the Oilers start to the 2013-14 season. Ironically it's a feel good piece because of two players who weren't feeling good. If Sam Gagner doesn't get his jaw broken and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isn't recovering from shoulder surgery does Arcobello make the Oilers? Maybe, because he's proven that he can play and I know the sample size, so far, is small. Speaking of small that appears to have been the biggest knock against Arcobello. The hockey Gods made him 5'8-166lbs. Those are noticeable numbers and not necessarily for the good when you are trying to land your NHL dream.
A dream that began in Milford, Connecticut where Mark was born. It was there that he played his minor hockey and grew up cheering for the NY Rangers and the Hartford Whalers. A young fan looking up at hockey heroes and wondering one day if he could be one of them. We all do that but only a select few achieve it. Arcobello is doing that now. It's not been an easy road. In fact, one that people along his career path suggested he not even take. Told he wouldn't make it. Built in motivation but it's taken much more than that for the 25 year old to arrive in his current position. I was told I'd never make it (I mean in hockey not broadcasting...okay in broadcasting as well) and my coaches were right. Mark Arcobello has and continues to prove people wrong.
He does it in a few different ways. He can hit. 47 in all which is first among Oiler forwards. He can put up points -- 13 in 24 games -- and he can win faceoffs. His % sits at 50.2%. I guess he's not too small to do all of the above. He's also smart and I'm not talking about the fact he went to Yale. If you didn't know what university the centreman graduated from all you'd have to do is watch him on the ice. Ya he's not Wayne Gretzky but he's also not Keith Gretzky (sorry Keith). He's what he looks like. A serviceable player who can creep into your top 6, can win important draws, could be used on the power play and maybe more importantly someone you can rely on to get the job, whatever it may be, done in a fashion that will make the coach happy.
He was told to get a place and then he was told to take a seat. Good news mixed in with bad news. However, it was only temporary as Arcobello has slipped back into the lineup after missing five games. He had 68 points last season in OKC and was a league All-Star. Injuries helped but he deserved a chance. He got it and is making something of it. Thursday night as Colorado comes to Edmonton I understand the hype surrounding Nathan MacKinnon. Everybody knows his name. People are just beginning to know the name Mark Arcobello, who is proving size doesn't matter. It's hard to measure someone's heart or brain -- two areas in which the Oiler comes up big.
Gene Principe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.