The Toronto Maple Leafs made a lot of big decisions on the first day of free agency.
They dealt away Phil Kessel for Kasperi Kapanen, a first round pick, and some other nifty things (basically fleecing Jim Rutherford if you don’t count the departure of Tyler Biggs, I suppose).
They also re-upped Richard Panik for $975,000 (putting my rough estimate given yesterday pretty darned close to what he ended up receiving), adding Nick Spaling for some forward depth, and brought Matt Hunwick on for some defensive veteran experience.
The most important move of the day, though, was their one-year pickup of cultish fan favorite Mark Arcobello.
The 5 foot 8 forward spent all four years at Yale University playing on their offensive corps in the NCAA, then was picked up as an undrafted ECHL player by the Stockton Thunder the year after he graduated.
He didn’t spend long in the ECHL, though, before being brought up to the AHL as a member of the Oklahoma City Barons. I could bring you through his time there, but it was fairly typical for an undrafted forward who showed offensive prowess — first he moved up through the depth chart, then found himself accidentally (because really, there’s no other way to describe it) playing as a first line centre in one NHL game in 2012-2013 as the pivot between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars (yes, that’s a thing that really happened. The Oilers really put a five foot eight undrafted AHL-er as their top line centre. #GOilerz.)
After a fairly successful 2013-2014 campaign that saw Arcobello split his time between the AHL’s Barons and the NHL’s Oilers – recording twenty-eight points in fifteen AHL games and fourteen points in forty-one NHL games – it was hardly a surprise to see the diminutive two way skater earn a full time roster spot in Edmonton for the 2014-2015 campaign.
Which is where things got really weird.
Some Toronto fans may know Arcobello as the guy Steve Dangle talked about on Sportsnet as only the second player to ever score for four different NHL teams in the same season. Others may know him as the American centre who mysteriously got named to Team USA at the 2015 World Championships before scoring the game-winning goal against Team Russia goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. If you’re a Toronto fan who also follows me when I write NHL-generic content, you know him as the guy who got claimed off waivers by the ever-disastrous Arizona Coyotes mid-season (that was his second waiver pickup and third transaction in just under fourteen weeks this winter), then scored against the San Jose Sharks in his first shift while wearing the Sedona red. He’s played on a line with Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Benoit Pouliot, Nail Yakupov, and Tobias Rieder. Oh, and he also got the primary assist off an Evgeni Malkin goal (because, like the Oilers, the Penguins put him in their top six upon adding him to their lineup) in a curb-stomping of his old Oilers this year.
Toronto has inked him to a one year, $1.1M deal – so what are they getting?
Mark Arcobello is a shifty skater, and he’s actually got a great read of the game – so add in some actual competency around him (unlike the tire fires he skated with in Edmonton and Arizona) and he’ll likely be a good contributor.
Even without help, though, he’s still a pretty reliable option. His first partial NHL season saw four goals and fourteen points in forty-one games, then he recorded seventeen goals and thirty-one points this year while being shuttled across four different franchises. That’s fairly resilient, and probably a good sign — especially since he scored at the Worlds, too.
Beyond that, though, he’s actually a decent possession driver. It’s a mistake to look at him as top six material, as both Edmonton and Arizona had little choice but to do – but for a third line centre, you’re getting decent upside. Before Arizona chose not to qualify him, I did a quick possession mock-up to see how he compared to the other depth signings that had been made by that point in time, adding in four very good NHL-calibre two way forwards to use as reference points. He actually held his own:
He’s not afraid to play a physical game and he’s versatile, so Arizona used him to occasionally play as a double-shifted centre/wing who centred his own line (generally between Tobias Rieder and another forward, often Shane Doan) and then stood on the wing for a line centred by Sam Gagner to take faceoffs when Gagner was feeling incompetent. He’s also a pretty fearless shot-taker, so he’ll sometimes be the guy to open scoring when the rest of the team can’t seem to bring themselves to find the back of the net.
He’s a small guy – like, no, he’s really small, to the point where I stood a head above him in heels in the Coyotes locker room – and sometimes he can get knocked out of the play when he’s not the one with the puck. He’s also a little too slow to be considered a Johnny Gaudreau-esque little guy, although he’s certainly not anything tragic when it comes to his speed.
He’s also a smart skater, but his playmaking does have it’s limitations – when faced with top six talent, it can sometimes be easy to predict what kind of moves he’ll make if you watch him play often enough. Whether that’s the result of playing in systems bereft of true playmaking talent or simply because he lacks that elite top six vision is still uncertain, but let’s err to the side of the latter assumption. I did a Tumblr piece on this earlier in the season.
Despite this, though, he’s a cult favorite for the team’s he’s played on because he drives offense and he’s exciting to watch. It’s like watching a smaller Jeff Skinner with slightly stiffer hands and a very excellent third liner’s playmaking ability.
Trust me, Toronto, #Unstoppabello is worth a roster spot.