Edmonton - July 31, 2014 - Trading for a second line centre in the NHL is basically impossible; I mean teams don’t give away these guys unless there are serious issues at play. These issues range from inflated contracts, injury history, poor attitude, poor fit or poor work ethic. The Oilers traded their “second line centre” away this offseason when they sent Gagner out of town. Gagner had issues, the fit wasn’t there on a team that is smurfed in the Pacific Division down the middle, and he was also floundering as an Oiler and seemed to be caught in quick sand in terms of developing his overall game. With the Nuge as the number one centre, having Gagner come over the boards behind him made no sense. So Mact pulled the trigger on a deal to bring in a big bodied winger with an okay offensive history, while drafting the huge German born Leon Draisaitl to become a future 2C on this team.
If the Oilers were a playoff or Stanley Cup Contender last season, this would’ve been a horrendous move and would have sent fans into a frenzy down Whyte Ave making a mockery of all things glass. Alas, this was a very poor team last season, and the outlook for 2014-15 in spite of some solid additions, is still very mild. Are they cup contenders? Not even close. Are they a Playoff team? Unlikely. Will they be playing important games beyond January? Very likely. The fact that this team has added some very good players to the top 9, a solid shutdown defenceman that doesn’t have puck-moving issues, and will be starting the season with two potential starting goaltenders are all very positive things.
The greatest asset of the team is the development within, Taylor Hall, Nuge, Yak and Eberle should all take significant steps this season, and if Hall takes another step, he will be stepping right into the spotlight of the NHL as maybe the best left-winger in the game (he’s already in the mix), so this team has some real potential to be in the mix come February and March.
The problem as we all know is at second line centre, and it’s tiresome thinking about how disappointing that slot is at the current moment. But what if it’s not as bad we think? What if the addition of big-bodied wingers is a part of the plan to surround Arcobello while Draisaitl builds his game on the sheltered third line, until game 50 when he simply takes the second line centre position away from Arco? Last season Arco was great in his limited playing time, and was actually one of the brightest spots from the season. He showed that while he may not have the offensive potential of Gagner, he was able to play a more cerebral game which allowed him to better compete on a nightly basis. His defensive awareness is decent, he has the ability to finish, and his work ethic is incredible. He doesn’t shy away from the big boys and he appears dead set on establishing himself as an NHLer. With the attitude and work ethic we’ve seen from him since he joined the organization, and the hole at 2C, it’s not outrageous to expect some great results from Arco early this season.
There are two big “what ifs” that could make the second line hole less of an issue for this season at least. The first; what if Arco can tread water and not get destroyed possession wise, while being supported on the wings by Purcell and Perron for at least 30 games? If he can do that it will take the pressure off of Mact to make a trade from a position of strength to fill a position of weakness. This would also play perfectly into the second "what if"concerning Leon the Conquerer. What if Draisaitl only needs 40 games of sheltered minutes to learn enough of the defensive side of the NHL that would allow him to take on more responsibility and more minutes. What if he is posting positive possession numbers and consistently improving offensive numbers? If that happens, it would coincide perfectly with the Arco drop-off (should it happen) and allow Draisaitl to take on those increased minutes and increased responsibility. Which in turn would allow Arco to take less minutes and less responsibility in a more sheltered role. With all reports of how dedicated Leon is to learning all aspects of the game, combined with his size and skill, this doesn’t seem an impossible reality to me.
With no threat of this team being a Cup Contender maybe Mact is making the smart move by waiting until training camp and judging the forward progress of this current roster. The other option of course would be trading away a great young defensive prospect for a second line centre. Quite frankly though if the return doesn’t make us an instant Cup Contender then why bother? If you ask me the Oilers would be better off holding steady, setting this team loose, allowing development to take place and judging progress at the quarter mark of the season. If both Arco and Leon are failing miserably then it becomes time for Mact to make a move. But as it sits right now I don’t think it makes sense to trade a great young defensive prospect for a 9th place finish. Yes, waiting is growing old in Oil Country but with the stable of up and coming young defenders and a great future 2C in Leon the wait for greatness grows shorter by the day.