Image via Matthew Henderson
A year ago, we ranked Darren Archibald number 19 on this list. This year, he’s number 14.
That’s a sign of improvement, right? I’d say so. And I should know, considering I was tasked with writing up Archibald’s profile last year, as well. When I got into this industry I’m not sure I was prepared for becoming the authority on all things Archibald, but I guess you never really know where life will take you.
The undrafted winger remains something of a project, but he’s one that’s made clear progress. He’s moved himself from ‘might play in the NHL status’ to ‘probably will play in the NHL status.’ Which has proved to be enough to bump up this list.
For bits on his trajectory over the past two seasons and what might happen this year, click past the jump.
A year ago, I noted that while Archibald continued to receive praise for his puck skills, the fact he’d spent the vast majority of the 2011-12 season in the ECHL was a very big concern. He’d made the Chicago Wolves out of camp, scored the team’s first goal of the season, but then he’d fallen off a cliff.
A big body, with great puck skills; because of that Craig MacTavish showed plenty of trust in the winger, early on. But the knock that had always followed him around reared its ugly head – his skating.
He was big, he liked to go in the corners, and he could dish, but he just couldn’t always get there. That’s why he’d been passed over twice in the draft. He’d also been to two separate prospect camps (in Columbus and Detroit) before signing with the Canucks in December of 2010.
In speaking with scouts, the challenge Archibald faced was learning how to skate with the puck. His top-end was servicable when he was pursuing the puck – no one gets to this level without that being true – but the problem was glaring when he was in traffic, trying to separate himself from defenders. He struggled to do that in the AHL.
But a summer went by. The 2012-13 season started up, and Archibald found himself on the outside looking in. But it wasn’t so much his own making; you can blame the NHL lockout for that. The Wolves started the campaign with an exceptionally bloated roster and a few new players who needed to get a taste of the AHL game. The result: he was sent back to Kalamazoo. It was now-or-never time.
Archibald went to Kalamazoo, dominated and saw himself recalled to the Windy City in late November. He made an almost immediate impact, scoring 6 goals in his first 11 games.
"I need to be the left-wing Kassian," he told Canucks Army in early January. There was a new determination from the big winger – he’d seen what the guys who’d played in the NHL (like Kassian, Ebbett, Tanev) could do up close and had a clear measuring stick of where he needed to get.
His skating had been the biggest focus, he told us.
Even more impressive is how far his skating has come. It was always the biggest knock against him, but on both nights his acceleration along the boards was noticeable and his powerful stride allowed for him to cut to the net with confidence.
“I’ve worked real hard in the off-season with Vancouver’s skating coach Ryan Landsberg; skating with him two, three times a week all summer. He’s helped me out a lot,’ Archibald said. "I feel like I’ve gotten faster since I left junior – and obviously stronger too.”
The other part of his game that really stands out is his vision. He’s a classic case of not judging a book by its cover – he’s a big guy and so one presumes that he’d be a shoot first, ask questions later type of guy, but that’s not the case, he said.
"I’ve always thought of myself as more of a playmaker than a goal scorer," he said. "I tend to put the pucks to the net more to get the assists. I’ve always loved to pass first, so if it’s open I’ll make the pass, but if not, I’m willing to shoot the puck.”
It was promising stuff.
An invitation to the Canucks’ abbreviated main camp followed, an event where Archibald and his AHL contemporaries served mostly as practice fodder for the big team. But it was a good sign for him, nonetheless.
"From year one to year two he was much quicker," said Wolves play-by-play commentator Jason Shaver. "If he can make the strides from year two to three, he’s certainly on track."
"His puck skills are obvious; last year was a solid growth for him," said Shaver. "I’ll tell you this, Scott Arniel would say that by the end of the year, if the Canucks had called again, Archibald would have been his recommendation."
That’s a pretty strong endorsement; in one year, Archibald had turned himself from disappointment to a burgeoning hope.
Arniel’s deployment of Archibald was confirmation of his trust in him. Our research found that Archibald played above-average ‘tough minutes’ during the 2012-13 AHL campaign.
It’s true, the skating remains a concern, but as Shaver pointed out to us, since his future in the NHL will never be in the top six, his trajectory to the NHL might actually be closer than we realize.
"The NHL might actually be easier for him, he wouldn’t have to fill 15-20 minutes a night, like he did in the AHL," said Shaver. "Archibald doesn’t have the skatign ability to make the top six, but he definitely has the size to play in the bottom six."
Third and fourth line guys – in the Canucks system, anyway – need to be good hockey players; after all, their job is to keep the other team from scoring while the Sedins and Kesler take a rest.
So, in our final assessment, we ask: "will Darren Archibald play in the NHL?" The answer is two-fold: "probably", followed by "it’s certainly a much better chance than it was a year ago."