Well before Jordan Eberle scored his highlight reel first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames, he showed that he had the ability to do special things on the big stage. He did nothing but score big goal after big goal for Team Canada over two World Junior Championships and it became almost laughable how clutch he was when he put on the red and white jersey for his country. So should anyone have been surprised that on opening night of the 2010-2011 season, on Hockey Night in Canada no less, that the kid from Regina was able to deliver something special? Looking back at it now, we should have all been stunned if he would have done nothing of note on that night. It doesn't seem to be in Eberle's makeup to let "the moment" go by without leaving a mark and scoring that type of goal in your first NHL game leaves quite the impression.
Eberle ended up leading the team in scoring last season and trailed only Ales Hemsky(.894), Ryan Whitney(.771) and Taylor Hall(.646) with a .623 points per game average. Not bad for a guy who did not get much of an opportunity on the top power play unit until the club was ravaged with injury and he had less than stellar linemates on the PP or 5 on 5. All things considered, an 18 goal 43 point rookie campaign, which included a 13 game stint on the sideline with a sprained ankle, was a very nice start to what will be a long and illustrious career.
Fellow rookie Taylor Hall and Eberle started off last season with Shawn Horcoff as their centre and it did the two youngsters a world of good. It allowed them both the opportunity to get their feet wet at the NHL level while having Horcoff show them the ins and outs of the game at this level. For the coming season, I see Jordan playing on a line with two newcomers to Oilers...though one is a returnee. First overall pick Ryan Nugent - Hopkins and Ryan Smyth will round out Edmonton's second line alongside Jordan Eberle and the trio has the potential to be a very potent unit. When you combine the vision and smarts that rookie Nugent - Hopkins brings to the table with the release and hands that Jordan Eberle has been blessed with...to think something special could develop between the two does not seem to farfetched. Add Smyth and his lunch pail game to the equation and you have the perfect compliment for the two youngsters. If Eberle remains injury free and is given increased time on the power play, I find it very difficult to see him not flirting with the 30 goal mark in season number two.
An area he showed improvement in as last season progressed was his defensive zone coverage but he still has a ways to go. Hopefully, the coaching staff decides to give him the chance to help out on the penalty kill and further develop that part of his game. When given the opportunity early on last season he struggled but he was far from the only one...they were appalling as a collective group! For some reason, he wasn't given another chance late in the season but I do see he and Ryan Smyth rotating in the role as the 4th and 5th forwards on the kill. He thinks the game at a very high level and because of that I do not see it being a stretch for him to develop into a good player, in very short order, away from the puck.
Jordan Eberle will end up being a major piece of the puzzle in determining if the Edmonton Oilers can once again become an elite franchise. It takes a certain type of player to want to be a difference maker and Eberle has that in his makeup. While I do not expect him to ever lead the team in scoring again...I do see him continuing down the path of becoming one of, if not the premier, clutch players in the game and the Edmonton Oilers and their fans, will be the lucky benefactors for many years to come.
2011-2012 Prediction: 30 G - 25 A - 55 Pts