Center Depth, Depth Center, & Cepth Denter, Denter Cepth

AHL Hockey: Apr 20 Barons vs Heat
Will Markobello get more NHL minutes this season? Photo by Steven Christy.

The center position for the Edmonton Oilers has been problematic for years. This is why they hogtied Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, signed Ryan Smyth, and extended Sam Gagner. Those three alone are nice pieces, some nicer than others, but there just isn’t enough depth in that center well to quench our thirst. This is made more problematic when you realize that the center position has also become tepid in the AHL.

Jason Gregor, via his radio show yesterday and again today via Oilers Nation, brought up this topic with Craig MacTavish. When discussing adding an additional centerman, he responded by saying:

No, I think we’re good there. We’ve got some depth with Arcobello, we’ve got Will Acton. Andrew Miller is a guy who I’m expecting will have a very good training camp as well, until Nuge is ready to play. I mean, injuries are a part of it. You look at any other team’s depth chart; there are always gaps in their depth chart. Sometimes these gaps allow players and opportunity to step in and really establish themselves as NHL players. You need a chance if you’re a young guy on the outside looking in. This could potentially be that chance if Nuge isn’t ready to go October 1st, but I don’t anticipate doing much more.

Assuming that Nugent-Hopkins isn’t game-ready by October. The going theory is that there are four options to temporary replace him – Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello, Will Acton, and Andrew Miller.

If you’re looking to simply replace Nuge, and I don’t think that’s the mentality to take, you’d have to adhere to the theory that Gregor (and perhaps MacTavish) is mentioning and that’s to place Arcobello, Miller or Acton in that 2C role. Slow your role just a bit, because between those three fellas only one NHL game has been played. This is a pipe dream of sorts. Likewise, neither Miller nor Arcobello is equipped to play tough third/fourth line minutes. The Oil will do the obvious, and that’s put Anton Lander in 4C, and bump everyone up the ladder from that point forward.

Arcobello and Lander ended the season as 1C and 2C on the farm. Both had equally good wingers to work with, and both produced solid points and minutes. They’ll continue that role this season if the Oilers don’t snatch at least one in October, and from the looks of it, they will do just that. Acton is a darkhorse, with Arcobello-like skills. Miller is untested. Arcobello is still on the iffy side of things.

This leaves Ryan Martindale, C.J. Stretch (AHL contracted), and Travis Ewanyk on the farm as legit centermen. Gone are Chris VandeVelde, Tanner House, Josh Green, and Eric Hunter. Clearly both the Oilers and Barons are hurting down the middle, and will continue to do so.

The fact that Lander is your only NHL-minute-taking centerman with experience should cause a shudder heard throughout Western Canada. He’s a good player, and I’ll even say he’s a great AHL player. But asking him to play above the third line in the NHL is still asking too much.

What do you think? Lander the obvious choice? Arcobello, Acton, Miller – will they get a shot? Should they? How do you solve a problem like “No Nuge”? Anxious to hear your thoughts.