When the Edmonton Oilers announced that they were going to send prospect Jordan Eberle to Springfield and likely keep him there for the rest of the season, I’ll admit that I was on-board with the proposal. I thought it demonstrated patience and a measured approach the Oilers have too long lacked with their prospects, and that it was probably the best place to get Eberle started, shielded from the expectations that come with being the shiniest new youngster on a last-place team.
Eberle’s performance in Springfield has caused me to rethink that stance.
In three games with the Falcons, Eberle has three goals, three assists, and a plus-3 rating. He’s scored one-third of the Falcons’ goals since he started playing for the team, and he’s recorded points on two-thirds of them. Those are incredible numbers, and combined with his performance last year give us a strong indication that he’s too good for the AHL.
Generally, I try not to let my opinion move too quickly on players; everyone has hot and cold streaks, and it’s only with time that we can get an accurate picture of where a player’s true talent level lies. Three games don’t give us that picture. Then again, we aren’t talking about penciling the kid in on the first line for the next four years either; all we’re talking about is a major league cup of coffee.
It’s an idea that has support from a lot of different people – Ben Massey at Copper & Blue raved about Eberle’s AHL performance, Lowetide thinks that he’s ready, and Dan Barnes is of the opinion that long-suffering Oilers fans deserve a chance to see him play. They all have good points, and those points all deserve consideration.
Balanced against that are the ideas I argued for when the Oilers first made the announcement, ideas that people like David Staples, possibly (like me) burned by seeing too many players in the NHL before they were ready, support. Taking time to allow players to succeed before they move up the depth chart is important, both for their development and for the NHL team. Ladislav Smid, for instance, probably should have had at least one more year in the minors, something which might have been good for his development, would have been good for the team, and would have kept him on a cheap contract for an additional year.
Speaking of which, another point for consideration is that there’s no purpose to burning up a year of Eberle’s cheap entry level contract playing out the final minutes of a dying and irredeemable season. According to CapGeek, that’s no longer a concern; the Oilers have only 10 games left and Eberle’s contract will slide to next season as long as he plays fewer than 11 games in the NHL. There may be other concerns; I’m not a CBA expert and if there are that would provide a valid reason for keeping Eberle in the AHL.
But that’s the only reason at this point. Eberle’s play has been strong enough that he’s earned a call-up on merit, and as long as it won’t weaken the Oilers’ ability to negotiate with him in the future they should give him his first NHL experience.