If you took a glance at the Oilers’ top three forward lines in mid-October, you probably picked up on the glaringly obvious theme: One of these things is not like the other.
Of the nine skaters, only one wasn’t selected in the first round of an NHL draft. Heck, he wasn’t even selected at all. He’s the lone American, the lone college hockey product and the only one among them to have made the climb from the ECHL to the National Hockey League.
Mark Arcobello’s résumé might stick out like a sore thumb, but make no mistake about it: The Milford, Conn., native has earned his opportunity to play a prominent role for arguably the best young forward corps in the league today.
The key to Arcobello’s success along the way has been his ability to adapt quickly at each level of the game, starting with his time at Yale (2006-10).
“I had a lot of fun there. I learned a lot from (head coach) Keith Allain,” said Arcobello, who notched 71 points in 68 games during junior and senior seasons as a Bulldog. “ I saw the rebuilding years and also the successful years in my last two. I got a little taste of what they were building up to this past year. It was really special to see them become national champions.”
The 5-foot-9 center headed west to begin his pro career with the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, the Barons, but was quickly rerouted to northern California.
“I signed a two-way AHL deal, so I started in Oklahoma City for camp and then they sent me down to Stockton a couple weeks in,” Arcobello said. “It was a grind, trying to learn the pro game and adapt to a new style of play. I got used to it and over time I was able to succeed there.”
After splitting 2010-11 between the AHL and ECHL, Arcobello was a permanent member of the Barons the following season. But when the 2012-13 campaign began and the NHL remained in lockout mode, it appeared as though the former Fairfield Prep star was going to get bumped down the depth chart.
Instead, Arcobello showed great chemistry with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle — a pair of the aforementioned first-rounders the Oilers sent to the farm to keep busy. “It was a funny year with all the guys being moved around and spots being taken up by guys coming down from the NHL,” Arcobello said. “I was fortunate enough to get to play with those guys down there and have success. When Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) went to world juniors, I was able to go and play with Ebs and Hall. It was a fun thing and nice to realize I can play with those players.”
The important thing for Arcobello was that he remained just as productive when those NHL stars returned to the big club following the conclusion of the lockout. He finished the season tied for third in the AHL with 68 points and led the Barons to within a win of reaching the Calder Cup finals, scoring 12 goals and adding eight assists in 17 playoff contests.
“It was kind of a breakout year. I had a lot of success with them and when they left, it continued,” said Arcobello. “It was definitely a year I’ll never forget, making the All-Star team, finishing third in points, and we also had a good team run. We got to the conference finals, and that series could have gone either way.”
During that second-half run, Arcobello was called up to make his NHL debut, seeing 18 minutes, 15 seconds of ice time in a 3-2 overtime loss to Dallas in Edmonton on Feb. 6. The ensuing offseason brought tempting offers to go play in Europe, but the 25-year-old center didn’t want to be one of the NHL’s one-game wonders.
“Yeah, at one point I was kind of close, but the dream is to play in the NHL,” Arcobello said when asked how realistic heading to Europe was. “I think coming back here was the best opportunity, and so far it’s been the right decision.”
Arcobello impressed first-year head coach Dallas Eakins and quickly earned a role on Edmonton’s top two lines. “I think I can win faceoffs, I think I can learn systems pretty well and play sound defense. I can also contribute on the other end, too, getting pucks to the net and making plays, especially if I’m playing with Ebs and Hallsy, we have that chemistry,” Arcobello said when asked what he’s done to earn top minutes. “As long as I keep working hard, listening to the coaching staff and doing my part by winning faceoffs and contributing on offense and defense, I’m going to give myself the best opportunity I can.”
Through 12 games, Arcobello’s 10 assists trailed just two players in the entire league: Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton. It’s been quite an ascension for the former Bulldog, who believes being a good student of the game has paved his way to the National Hockey League.
“I think just listening to the coaching staff and trying to learn from the players I’m playing with, and just adapting to the style of play at each level,” Arcobello said of the keys to his development. “It changes a lot, but I think the more games I get in a row, the more confident I get and the more I understand how the game is played at the next level.”
Though Edmonton stumbled out of the gate, going 3-8-1, it’s a near certainty that things will click sooner rather than later after a few frustrating years in Oil Country.
“We have so much skill and so much talent that if we can piece a few things together, I think we’re going to start winning a lot of games,” Arcobello said. “The goal for every team in the NHL is to make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. It’s early in the season. We’ve still got a lot of work to do and we have to sort some things out, but over time we’re going to start winning a lot of games. For me personally, I’m just trying to make a name for myself in the NHL and stick on a roster.”