The obvious question is this: Why is one of the NHL’s best teams interested in a player on whom two other clubs have already given up?
One obvious reason is that a Pittsburgh team which was never all that deep up front has been absolutely ravaged by injuries. The Pens have started getting healthy of late, but a glance at their official roster still shows four different forwards on injured reserve: Pascal Dupuis, Patric Hornqvist, Blake Comeau and AHL call-up Scott Wilson.
Those injuries mean that forwards like Bryan Rust (14 points in 25 AHL games prior to recall) and Zach Sill (one assist in 48 career NHL games) played against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. With all due respect to those players, the bar to crack the Pittsburgh roster isn’t terribly high at the moment.
That’s where Arcobello comes in. So far I’ve presented this as a case of "things are so bad in Pittsburgh that it can’t hurt," and while there is certainly an element of that, Arcobello is an interesting player in his own right. Head coach Mike Johnston praised the Yale grad’s intelligence when describing what he brings to Steel City:
Hockey sense and ability with the puck are two of Arcobello’s greatest virtues. That intelligence allowed Arcobello to play significant minutes on the penalty kill in Edmonton over the last two seasons; in concert with his puck skills, it also allowed him to rack up 28 points in 15 AHL games the last time he was in the minors. He’s a clever player in all three zones, can alternate between centre and wing without missing a beat and is an excellent playmaker.
Work ethic is another point in Arcobello’s favour. He plays like a guy who worked his way up to the majors from the ECHL, like a guy who knows that if there’s any lapse in his effort he’s going to be right back down in the minor leagues. His physical game gives evidence of that; he’s been credited with 135 hits in 82 NHL games despite a pint-sized frame.
There was an AHL game during the 2012 NHL lockout that’s always stuck with me, because it does a nice job summarizing what kind of player Arcobello is. It was November, and the loaded Oklahoma City Barons would beat the Texas Stars 6-4, but in my postgame write-up, it wasn’t Arcobello’s offence that caught my eye:
There was one shift in particular early in the second that exemplified Arcobello’s game for me. He fanned on a pass in his own end, leading to a turnover, but aggressively followed the puck and negated his mistake, then led an effective rush for Oklahoma. On that rush, [Barons defenceman] Colten Teubert pinched in, and Arcobello covered for him, effectively blocking out a much larger Texas forward when the puck came out of the zone. There was a comical moment midway through the game when 5’9”, 165-pound Arcobello went for a hit on 6’7”, 254-pound Jamie Oleksiak; Oleksiak braced himself and Arcobello literally bounced off. Arcobello took another try at the same task in the third and somehow ended up getting the best of the exchange.
Arcobello’s a bright player who doesn’t quit and doesn’t back down, a versatile forward who is comfortable in a checking role and also brings considerable offensive skill to the table. But then, he needs those qualities because he comes with some considerable disadvantages, too. He’s tiny, for one; of the 524 forwards to play a game in the majors this season, 510 of them weighed more than Arcobello. He’s not a bad skater, but he’s just average in that department, and the queue of NHL general managers looking for the combination of tiny frame and mediocre speed is awfully short.
Those are the parts; the question is what the sum of them equals out to be. At worst, he’s a useful end-of-roster option because he can be plugged in at centre or wing and play on any special team without looking out of place. In the right situation, he might even emerge as a regular NHLer; a big part of the reason a small Edmonton Oilers team signed him last summer was because he excelled in 2013-14 when given an opportunity on a scoring line.
This is a nice addition for the Penguins. If he’s a useful fill-in piece until the team gets healthy, that's enough to justify the waiver claim, but the potential is here for more than that. Arcobello only has a $600,000 cap hit and is a restricted free agent in the summer, and he's shown flashes of real ability; he might just be the kind of cheap, effective bottom-six option that Pittsburgh has lacked for a long time.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.