Darren Archibald has always been a "late bloomer." While he had significant success in his Major Junior career, that career didn’t even begin until he was 18. The young power-forward went undrafted several times, and was only signed by the Canucks as a 20 year old after his NHL draft eligibility had expired.
Until this past summer, undrafted free agents were a staple of Mike Gillis’ tenure as Canucks General Manager. Prominent examples include Chris Tanev and Eddie Lack, as Mike Gillis aggressively pursued "late bloomers" of Archibald’s ilk in an effort to jump-start a rebuild of the Canucks farm system and offset the loss of the mid-round picks that Gillis routinely moves at the trade deadline.
After several shining successes with undrafted free agents, Mike Gillis’ luck ran out somewhat this past season. In 2011 he signed two more long-shots in Sebastian Erixon (who was unhappy in Chicago, was traded, and will return to Sweden for next season) and Darren Archibald, who spent nearly all of last season in the ECHL.
Generally speaking, spending a year in the ECHL is a bad sign. The league doesn’t even have an NHLE number since, Alex Burrows aside, so few players ever actually make the transition. To get signed to a professional contract by an NHL club in the first place, Darren Archibald had to overcome long odds. Can he do it again and make the show? Click past the jump for more.
NHL scouts have long been impressed by Archibald’s skill with the puck, but his skating has always been a concern. Like 2012 draft pick Alex Mallet, Archibald is a different skater with the puck than without and both players have difficulty pulling away from defenders while they are carrying the puck. It’s a challenge Archibald will have to overcome if he’s going to make the NHL. To make it to the NHL level, scouts generally believe that a player can take no more than four strides to get up to top speed, while being pressured and at the moment Archibald falls short of that standard.
On the other hand, his work ethic and attitude has garnered praise. Like Alex Burrows, Archibald seemingly has a will to succeed that may carry him over the top and into the NHL.
From the Barrie Examiner’s Gene Pereira:
[Archibald’s] big 6’3, 210-pound frame makes him hard to handle in corners and when driving to the net. When on his game, he uses his large frame to fend off checkers, but the knock is that he lacks that grit consistently. Coaches would love to see him play with more of an edge. He’s a true power forward when he plays that rugged style.
[Archibald] has solid hands and was always able to find the back of the net in junior, recording 25 goals in his rookie season with Barrie and following it up with a 26-goal effort in just 57 games the following year. Dealt to the Niagara IceDogs two months into in his final season in 2010-11, he finished his overage year with a career high 41 goals and 25 assists in 61 games.
He boasts a quick release that makes him very effective in the slot area or coming off the boards. He’s also a responsible player in his own end who can play on the penalty kill and can see some power play time.
He’ll also drop the mitts here and there and could develop into a solid bottom six forward, and possible top six forward if he delivers that rugged style consistently.
Archibald attended NHL prospects camps with Detroit and Columbus before signing with the Canucks in December 2010. There clearly was something about his skating the Canucks felt they could correct…
After scoring the first goal of the season for the Wolves, Archibald slowly but surely slid down Craig MacTavish’s lineup, until eventually he was in the press box. His demotion to Kalamazoo was reasonably successful as he was able to find the net with regularity, however, a late-season call up to Chicago again saw him fighting for minutes again. Despite his successful ECHL turn, Archibald struggled to be productive in his second stint with the Wolves…
Archibald plays a strong game and has an effective shot, so despite his lack of foot speed, he should get a long look in the top-9 forwards for the Wolves next season. Even if he can transform himself into an effective player at the AHL level – a significant if, at this point – Archibald is at least a couple of seasons away from dressing for the Canucks. Even then, it’s fair to characterize that prospect as remote…