Nothing against Oklahoma City Barons fans, but American Hockey League All-Star center Mark Arcobello hopes Friday night's NHL preseason game is his final time to play on the Cox Convention Center ice.
At age 25, the all-time leading scorer in Barons history finally is getting an opportunity to play steady NHL minutes.
A “bubble” candidate to make Edmonton's roster entering training camp, Arcobello played well in preseason. In Friday's NHL Showcase, a Dallas Stars 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers in front of 8,841 fans, Arcobello was on a line with Jordan Eberle and Finland winger Jesse Joensuu.
“My only focus right now is that first game (Tuesday night) of the regular season,” Arcobello said. “I'm hungry. I've been waiting for this chance for a while. I'm going to make the most of it.”
It could be an extended “tryout” for Acrobello.
Edmonton's No. 1 center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will miss a month recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Oilers No. 2 center Sam Gagner might be sidelined two months with a broken jaw. To help fill the void, Taylor Hall has moved to center on the No. 1 line.
“It's unfortunate what happened to Gags but it's an opportunity for me,” Arcobello said. “Hopefully I take advantage of it.”
The all-time leader in points and goals in the Barons' three-year history in OKC, Arcobello finished the preseason second on the Oilers roster in shots (13). He was third in scoring with four points in six games.
“I was on the same line with Arco when Nuge went to the world (juniors) last year around Christmas,” Eberle said. “A lot of times we actually did a lot better with Arco. ... It's great to see him get a shot.”
The Yale product from Milford, Conn., gained invaluable experience playing with Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz, who played in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout.
“That definitely helped me to gain experience with those guys,” Arcobello said. “In (training) camp I knew exactly what to expect. It also helped knowing some guys in the locker room.”
With Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner sidelined, Arcobello suddenly becomes a spotlight player for the Oilers, who are trying to end a seven-year playoff drought, the longest in the NHL.
“Those guys are great players but this team still has a lot of firepower,” Arcobello said. “I'm just trying to chip in whenever I can and do my part.”
Arcobello finished third in the AHL in scoring last season (68 points) to help lead the Barons to the Western Conference finals for the second consecutive season. He had the last-second, game-winning assist in the AHL All-Star game. Three years ago he was the MVP of the ECHL All-Star Game.
The knock on Arcobello is he's too small (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) to withstand the rigors of an 82-game season, night after night exchanging blows with NHL defensemen 30 to 40 pounds heavier.
During pregame starting lineup introductions Friday night, Arcobello was dwarfed by Joensuu, his 6-foot-4 linemate, and Schultz, a 6-foot-2 defenseman.
Eberle, 5-foot-10, 175, heard some of the same concerns during his junior days. Eberle evolved into a first-round pick who has scored 156 points in 195 NHL games and could play for Team Canada in next year's Winter Olympics.
“I've been through that,” Eberle said. “All throughout my career I heard, ‘He's too small. He's never going to make it to the bigs.' It motivated me. I'm sure it motivates Arco, too. He's proven he's a really good player.”
Arcobello wasn't even drafted. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract with Edmonton in 2011 after scoring 116 points his four seasons at Yale.
As a pro, Arcobello's impact was felt from the get-go. After being named an All-Star at Double-A Stockton, Arcobello the past 2 1/2 seasons has scored 133 points, including 83 assists, with the Barons.
Arcobello made his NHL debut last season. He appeared in one game with the Oilers before being sent back to Oklahoma City.
This time Arcobello should stay much longer, but he knows he must prove himself in October or he could end up back with the Barons.
“Oklahoma City is a great place to play. I love this city. I've enjoyed my time here,” Arcobello said. “No one knows what may happen going forward but hopefully I can stay up in the NHL. I have confidence I can play at that level. I just have to go do it.”