Accepting your role: Will Acton- Yesterday, I wrote about Anton Lander who I felt was the favorite to start the season as the Oiler’s fourth line centre. At the bottom of that post I mentioned how I was listening to Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now and how he felt that recently acquired Will Acton, not Anton Lander, would start the season in the fourth line spot. Since Stauffer is both an Oilers employee and an insider, I have no reason to doubt him. I also stated in yesterday’s post:
I don’t think Acton is the guy on a playoff team either- however, I haven’t seen enough of him to know.
So today I decided to look a little deeper at Acton and see what I could find.
As you probably already know, Acton is the son of former Edmonton Oiler forward and current Oiler associate coach Keith Acton. It would be easy for skeptics and critics to brush off the signing of Will Acton as another move made by the dreaded ‘Old Boys Club’, but three factors work against that argument:
- The Oilers were systemically lean on depth at center
- Acton has played the previous two seasons for Dallas Eakins with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL
- As a first time NHL coach, it is very unlikely that Eakins would rely on a player he didn’t trust and he didn’t feel could do the job
So for this post, I’m going to assume that Acton’s signing was a good depth move by the organization and not motivated by nepotism.
It was tough to find a concise scouting report which gave much insight on whether or not Acton could be a player. What is very obvious is that coming out off his collegiate run at Lake Superior State, the younger Acton wasn’t really on anyone’s prospect radar. According to a report in the Toronto Star, he was working at a Golf Club in Stouffville when he was surprised to get a call from the Leafs. Shortly after, he joined the AHL’s Toronto Marlies on an AHL only contract. What struck me in the article was when Acton was quoted as saying:
I’ve always known I’d rather be the fourth-line centre getting eight minutes a night on a first-place team than be the leading scorer on a last-place team.
This quote very much gives the impression of a player who is willing to accept a diminished role and work hard to keep it.
The history of the NHL is littered with players who either could accept a new role for an extended stay in the best league in the world, or couldn’t and ended up in relative obscurity. One example of the former is Darcy Tucker. When he was in junior with the powerhouse Kamloops Blazers of the early 1990′s, he once had a season (1994-95) where he scored a goal per game (64 in 64) and 137 points. To stay in the NHL, Tucker had to change his game to become a third line agitator and part-time offensive contributor. His willingness to accept a new role lead to a 14 year NHL career and millions of dollars in his bank account.
A player like Rob Schremp, who Oilers fans know well, is an example of the latter. He is a player who wasn’t able to accept or excel in a reduced role. He had 1 goal in 21 games last season while in the KHL after stints in Austria and Sweden.
How does this relate to Will Acton? He was never even close to offensive players like Tucker or Schremp in pre-professional leagues, however, he has demonstrated a willingness to accept and learn a role. Not many kids grow up dreaming of being an 8 minute a night grinder in the NHL- typically they dream of being Sidney Crosby. The quote above almost makes it seem like Acton dreams about being a 4th liner- which would be good, as the team can be comfortable in knowing that the player is comfortable in his role and wants to excel in it.
In an article which appeared on the Durham Region.com, Oilers coach Dallas Eakins had this to say about Acton:
He’s like a bad smell that won’t go away He’s never been the best player on any team he’s ever played for, but he scratches and claws and finds a way.
Acton’s offense, at any level, has never been anything to get excited about. However, as a fourth liner, that isn’t his role. It sounds like he has won over his coach, but is he enough of a player for the NHL? At 6’2″ and 190 lbs, he has some size and if he is as tenacious as Eakins describes him, he would be at least an upgrade on the listless Eric Belanger from last season. The unknowns are whether or not he can win a faceoff or has the physical tools to compete at the NHL level. What isn’t in doubt, from the reports at least, is his effort and willingness to compete. Whether that translates into a decent fourth line centre or not remains to be seen. However, Acton was also quoted as saying:
I was always comfortable being the underdog. The guy going into a team with only five spots left and who’s going to make it. I’ve been like that for the last five, 10 years and I like it. It’s just been my path and I’m hoping to extend it.
While he may not have the statistical track record, what has been said about him along with his own statements definitely give the impression of a player who fits the mould of an NHL fourth liner. We will know more this fall.
After having to suffer through the agony of watching Belanger the last few seasons, maybe it is not such a bad idea to have a guy who has actually dreamed of having that job. Just a thought.
Until next time,