There was a time when I was far less excited about Jordan Eberle than the average Oilers fan. In the summer of 2009, Eberle had already carved out a bit of a reputation thanks to some World Junior heroics (we didn’t know more were to come) and most fans were chalking him up as a can’t-miss prospect. I looked at him, and saw a player with relatively modest production (for a high-end prospect), likely overrated because he’d scored a few big goals in a brief tournament.
I’ve done a 180° since then.
That summer, there was some debate about whether Eberle would earn a roster spot come fall, and I argued loudly against putting him on the team at that point. The Oilers decided to keep him in the WHL for an additional season despite an impressive training camp showing, and Eberle had a phenomenal season. He scored 50 goals in 57 games, jumped from 74 points to 106 (in fewer games to boot) and was a difference maker for Canada’s entry at the World Juniors.
When Eberle turned pro, the Oilers organization ignored any temptation they might have had to jump him to the NHL level immediately, leaving him on the miserable Springfield Falcons, where he put up 14 points in 11 games in his second AHL stint.
This fall, as I put together my entry for Robin’s Lucky-13 contest, I decided that Eberle would probably put up a fair number of points (I predicted 39, a slight drop from the 46 projected by a Desjardins translation) but braced myself for what I’d seen so many times with other prospects: a capable offensive player with minimal defensive skills, a guy who wins over fans with offence but costs his team standings points.
Not even close.
I was wrong on Eberle’s offence; rather than fall below the projection he has exceeded it to date – he’s on pace for 56 points as I write this article. But while the offence was a pleasant surprise, I was shocked by the high level of Eberle’s overall game.
Eberle has killed penalties as a rookie. He back-checks, he fore-checks, and he already has better defensive awareness than a host of wingers with far more extensive professional experience. Again, as an NHL rookie, Eberle looks oh-so-close to being a power-vs.-power winger. That’s a rare, rare thing, something that hasn’t been seen in Edmonton for a long time.
Eberle’s a special player. It took me a few years to realize it, but I’m sold now.