December 16 2016 04:05PM
After a much needed three-day break from what’s been a hectic schedule for the Edmonton Oilers, it looks like Jordan Eberle will be back playing right wing on Todd McLellan’s top line with Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic when the Tampa Bay Lightning come calling at Rogers Place on Saturday.
The way I see it, there’s no time like right now for Eberle to get his game in gear and, really, given some needed rest and the company he’ll be keeping against the Bolts, no excuse for him not to. While Eberle, who has 8-15-23 so far this season, hasn’t been nearly as bad as his staunchest critics would have you believe, there’s room for improvement. He hasn’t been at his best. Not close.
“Obviously, he’s a pretty good player,” Eberle said of re-joining McDavid after a brief stint alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “He’s a fun player to play with. I think we’re just trying to find some chemistry again. I think we started off the season pretty well. We’ve played a lot together, so we know each other’s tendencies and it should be good.”
No disagreement from McDavid, who has been dominant no matter who he’s played between. “I like playing with Ebs a lot,” McDavid said. “He brings a lot of different elements to a line and he's one of the most lethal players around the net. Definitely happy to be back with him and hopefully we can find (chemistry) again.”
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
If chemistry is just another way of saying McLellan needs more production from Eberle, then by all means. Regardless of who he’s played with, Eberle has just one goal in his last 11 games with 32 games in the books for the Oilers. Lucic, who has taken his fair share of criticism as well, has scored 8-14-22. Like Eberle, he’s had his share of off-nights. Like Eberle, there’s more there – you can say the same for Nugent-Hopkins as well.
At Friday’s skate, McLellan had Patrick Maroon with Leon Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula, Benoit Pouliot with RNH and Tyler Pitlick and Matt Hendricks and Zack Kassian flanking Mark Letestu. Taylor Beck, summoned from Bakersfield, could also factor in the forward mix, as could rookie Jesse Puljujarvi. We likely won’t know for certain how the lines will look until Saturday’s game-day skate.
“We start with our team and we look at -- I talked about pairs in the past -- pairs, combinations,” McLellan said. “Where production is coming from, where it's lacking. Who is taking their games up, maybe who is falling a little bit. Then we look at opposition, what might be coming at us from the opponent and how we might play against them. There's a number of different factors that go into it.”
The Oilers have had three days to recharge their legs and their minds as they prepare to face the Lightning. They also have a day between each of the other three games they’ll play between now and Christmas. If Eberle is going to make a push and become as productive as many – me included – thought he might be playing with McDavid, now’s the time to get started.
Being just OK playing alongside McDavid isn’t going to cut it. Nor should it. That goes for Eberle and the big guy wearing No. 27 as well. More, please.
A TIP OF THE CAP
After 41 years of finding ways to seamlessly put words together in a way I never managed, Cam Cole wrote his final column today. Some of you will remember Cole from his days at the Edmonton Journal, which is where I met him. Others know him from his time at the National Post or the Vancouver Sun. Simply put, Cole is the finest writer I have ever worked with.
There have been several tributes written about Cole by friends and colleagues closer to Cam than I since word trickled out a few weeks ago he was retiring, so I won’t re-visit those, except to provide a link to one of them, written by Iain MacIntyre, here. Mac, who I went to school with and spent two years working with at the now-defunct Kamloops Daily News, pretty much nails it.
When I was a kid growing up and wondering if I had what it took to become a sportswriter in the days when daily newspapers still mattered, Jim Taylor at the Vancouver Province was the guy I aspired to become. In the years after I actually faked my way into the business, Cole was the guy, even before I arrived in Edmonton in 1989 and walked into the sports department at The Journal.
I won’t even try to list what I considered Cole’s most brilliant work as a wordsmith, but what sticks with me most is the way he wrote golf, particularly from the Masters at Augusta, starting in 1993 when we flew into Florida together. Cole would spend a few days covering spring training with me – the first year of an odd coupling between the Florida Marlins and Triple-A Edmonton Trappers -- before taking off to Augusta. I think Cole covered every Masters since then, the lucky bastard, but I digress.
The newspaper business was much different back then. The dailies actually made money. We had pretty generous travel budgets and we made great efforts to spend them. Hell, in the years I covered baseball, I think I’d turned spring training into about a three-week gig – that was covering the PCL Trappers, not a big league team. It was a different time, and one that struck home reading Cole’s farewell column today. It’s here.
Oddly enough, the Cole moment that sticks with me wasn’t at a Stanley Cup or a Grey Cup. It came one humid afternoon in Cocoa Beach. We were leaning on a batting cage watching Larry Walker of the Montreal Expos getting his swings in. Walker was hacking fat BP fastballs over the outfield fence. I picked up Walker’s display about three homers in and I don’t think it stopped until he’d yanked 12 or 13 straight out of the yard. Cole and I just kind of looked at each other in a WTF moment and laughed. This was work? Mercy, sports writing was a great gig back then. It’s different now, even more so with Cam calling it a career today.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.
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