The Season’s Most Pleasant Surprise: Jordan Eberle

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.

  • positivebrontefan

    A nice surprise for me is his effective speed. Not absolute wheels but uses his speed effectively and wisely. He’s a thinker out there, great to see.

  • positivebrontefan

    The kid can really think the game, I too was very tentative to give him to much credit early and my Lucky 13 entrant shows me putting him behind both Hall and Paarvi. Good job Eberle, works hard and takes nothing for granted.

  • Hemmertime

    @ JW

    “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”

    ummm, Even you tout Hemsky as a great power vs power winger. So, this is something we have seen quite often over the last few years. Eberle is doing it earlier in his career, but Hemsky outscores other teams top lines (when paired with Horc, and he quite outscores with Horc AND Penner I think)

    • Maggie the Monkey

      Don’t be a boob. The whole quote reads: “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.”

      Did you think that nobody would notice when you cut out the beginning of the sentence to try to make your little misformed argument? I can’t stand it when people misquote and take statements out of context to try to make a point, especially when it’s just a matter of cutting and pasting.

      Hemsky clearly wasn’t a great pvp winger as a rookie in the league, and JW’s point stands: can you name the last rookie who was? It’s been a while.

  • ubermiguel

    Ebs is doing awesome… smartest hockey player on the Oilers. I like Hall’s game better but we are lucky to get to watch this kid and he will be a huge part of our Stanley Cup Championship in 2015.

  • @ Hemmertime:\

    Again, as an NHL rookie, Eberle looks oh-so-close to being a power-vs.-power winger. (bolding added)

    I meant that it’s been a long time since the Oilers had a rookie who looked like a power-vs.-power player immediately.

  • ubermiguel

    He’s so smart with the puck, especially along the boards. Hate to say it but on the Eberle/Gagner/Hall line, the play often dies with Gagner. The other two guys find a way to make a play with shifty passing or speed.

    • Crash

      Seriously, this is your observation?…I have to question what it is you’re watching. Gagner’s fitting in very nicely on that line, he’s the one who is always back deep in his own zone, he’s the one that gets those 2 wingers the puck..

      I hope they stay together. They are becoming a very dangerous trio.

      • ubermiguel

        Yes, that’s my observation. Gagner might be fine on on the break-out and in their own end but in the offensive zone if the puck ends up on his stick more often than not the play dies.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        “he’s the one who is always back deep in his own zone”

        I have to agree, I’ve been *very* impressed with Gagners attention to the defensive game. Like you said he’s very deep almost every play and he’s quick to turn and head back to cover when the puck is lost in the offensive zone.

        He almost looks like a Dman with his “breakout passes” from the top of the circle after he retrives the puck behind the net.

        • Crash

          He does end up quite often starting the offense from his own end because he is in position. I’ve seen him on many occasions pick up the oppositions attacking center and break up the chance. He’s smart, he makes skill plays, passes and does have some touch.

          I agree with you…why is it there are always so many dumassess that want to run our skill players out of town. It’s mind numbing. The guy is all of 21 yrs old and is producing better at that age than many of todays top end guys did and still there are those no minds that can’t see how bright his future is.

          And what’s to hate about Gagner? He’s a competitor, he works hard, he’s not a premodonna (spelling?), he continually improves, he’s clearly got skill and he’s a team guy.

          I have a feeling the Gags/Hall/Eberle line could be quite effective going forward.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            “I have a feeling the Gags/Hall/Eberle line could be quite effective going forward”

            Yup, could easily be a 220+ point line year in and year out. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that.

  • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

    What happened to Eberle’s pk time lately, it could just be me but it seems that he isnt out there any more…27/13 & 16/28 are the combos I have seen on a regular basis as of late.

    • Horcsky

      Renney seems to be using the forwards in pairs to PK (like you said in your post), so when Eberle’s partner, Horcoff, was injured Renney really cut back his minutes and gave them to some other forward pairs he has together for the PK. That’s my guess anyways.

  • Eberle has been far more well-rounded than I thought he would be.

    The other aspect is his tenacity. That’s not rare because smallish players are often stubborn, but he doesn’t abandon smarts and positioning in the name of zeal and throwing himself into the fray.

    Eberle is better and more complete now, regardless of how many points he ends up with this season, than I thought he would be.

  • DSF

    It takes balls to admit you were wrong about Eberle, Willis, for that I applaud you.

    Now take those same critical thinking and apply it to Horcoff and Gagner.

    You’re wrong about them too.

    • “Hi, I’m DSF. I will go into any thread about any subject and try to make it about my personal myopic pet peeves”

      The skills that Eberle has that stand out for me are:

      1) Cool under pressure. Seems to know exactly how much time he has to make a play and never, ever panics.

      2) Awareness of where everyone is. Always seem to make the best play with the puck whether its defensively or offensively.

      3) Ability to come out of traffic with the puck. He wins far more puck battles than a rookie his size should. Seems to know how to use his stick and mobility against larger stronger men.

      If JFJ had Eberle’s head he’d be Cam Neely.

  • Cervantes

    Gagner is the weak link on any line. Yeah, he’s a solid passer and he’s getting points, but his lack of size, FO ability, defensive awareness and versatility rules him out as an effective top6 centre.

    If anyone else was the GM of the Oilers, I’d say expect Gags to be moved. He has plenty of skill and production, but he’s not what we need.

    However, Tambo is GM, and by the time he’s done evaluating Gags, no-one is going to want a 34 year old centre…

    • kgo

      I agree,

      Gags is weaksauce

      Tambo was praying that Gags would get an offer sheet last summer and magically turn into draft picks. He’s still restricted in 2 years when his contract is up, and will probably get an even bigger offer sheet then after all the points he puts up skating with hall/eberle.

      Edited out all the real classy stuff. jw

    • D-Man

      A solid passer and gets points but is a weak link?? Wow… I’m not sure you and I are watching the same games, but Gagner has improved his defensive play as well.. You’re right that his lack of size will hurt him on the dot, but if he can remain a 45% FO guy – we’ve got ourselves a gem of a hockey player…

      Gagner is similar to Eberle in the sense of hockey smarts and tenacity – there’s no way Tambo considers moving him… You might forget that he’s also 21/22 – his upside is huge considering his potential…

  • O.C.

    I thought the thread was about Eberle?

    Credit the coaches to promote sensible play with creativity. He and TH are already being used as examples. Play, hard, fast, smart, create things and you get more ice time.

  • Wow, lots of Gagner hate. Not especially rational Gagner hate, IMO, but that’s alright. His production this year at even-strength has been terrific, though admittedly he’s having a brutal power play year. I’ve never understood knocks on his defensive game; he’s a smart player.

    As always, try to keep it civil – there’s no need to say some of the things being said about the guy, even if you dislike the player.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I know you are a Gagner supporter, Jonathan, but while he has good offensive puck sense, he is still weak defensively. It is encouraging to see some improvement this season, but he has a long way to go. Part of it can be corrected with playing time and experience, but he will still be a smaller, slower player that struggles in battles in his own end. Watch a game when he is paired with Penner and see how often the Fridge ends up covering for him down low.

      Granted, a stronger d-corps will cover for this as well, but there will still be issues with Gagner’s d-game which is okay provided he has solid defensive wingers and d-men that move the puck up fast. As the team gets stronger on the blue line they can compensate for that.

  • @ DSF:

    I’ll admit I’m wrong on Gagner when I’m wrong on Gagner. I’m pleased with his progress this season.

    As for Horcoff – it may be injuries, it may be that initial expectations were too high, or more likely a combination of the two, but he simply doesn’t have the offensive game I once thought he did.


  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I wonder if we are the only fan base in the league trying it’s hardest to run it’s leading point getter (forwards) out of town?

    …. I think LT needs to add to his list…

  • 5cups7years

    Eberle sees the Ice with great vision. Has a great shot, good hands good 2 way game, i can think of a single thing more to ask from him, other then to add some bulk.

  • I can’t believe all the Gagner hatred out there. The KIDS only 21 years old and you can really see progress in his game this season.

    He’s playing with a lot more tenacity, his EV points are great, only his PP points suck, but the whole team is horrendous on the PP. Is that Gagner’s fault or the system? I would think a little of both.

    More importantly I really like how he’s fitting in with Ebs and Hall. When Horc and Hemmer get back we’ll actually have 2 top lines that can score. Let Penns, Horc and Hemmer handle the other teams top line and top D-men and let hall, gagner and Ebs deal with the 2nd line and 2nd D pairings.

  • Dyckster

    One thing I find confusing is several posters on this sight have suggested Gagner’s faceoff prowess will suffer because of his overall physical stature.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but some of the players who have travelled through these parts and had better than average faceoff success (Mike Peca, Adam Oates and to a lesser extent Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner) did not carry with them NFL Linebacker type physiques nor were they 6’3″ 225lbs.

    • D-Man

      I think Gagner doesn’t have as quick of a stick as the players you’ve listed – who asides from Marty – were top 5 faceoff men in the NHL at one time or another…

      That’s why he suffers at the dot… He isn’t significantly faster than say a Joe Thorton and then can get pushed off the puck…

      Honestly, without drafting a natural, bigger centremen or buying a FA, the Oilers will need to work a heck of a lot more on the dot should they a) want to improve the PK/PP and b) cut down time spent in their own zone.

      • Dyckster

        Exactly my point, you don’t need to be a coke machine to win faceoffs.

        Quick hands can be taught/developed.

        I remember seeing a TV spot on Stoll when he was still here. Practice was over and a coach (Billy Moores maybe) was dropping pucks as quick as he could with Stoll trying to draw them back. I’m sure stuff like that is being worked on now, but obviously not enough of it…

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    FWIW, I don’t know why everyone is so surprised with Eberle’s performance this season. He looked better than Gagner or Cogs at camp last year, and again this year. He thinks the game better than Gagner (not going to put Cogs in here since there is no comparison), is greasy for a little guy = can win puck battles in tight, and plays relatively sound defensively.

    Right now Eberle and Hall have some chemistry developing with Gagner since he moves the puck up faster than Horcoff, but longer term I would like to see them with a skilled bigger centreman that can also do the dirty work and create space for them. My gut feeling is that if Hall and Eberle had a larger, skilled centreman that could create space and win puck battles they would be scoring even more. The only question now is how does the team find one.

  • As a man who bought an Eberle Jersey the first game of the season, has since bought an Eberle t-shirt and has a homemade life sized Eberle doll seated on a 24k gold throne at Wanye Manor – I take full credit for his awesomeness.

    You are most welcome everybody.

  • Milli

    Eberle has been way more than I expected, he is such a smart player. Gagner has had a GREAT year. GREAT! People need to lay off the kid. He is 21 and is progressing nicely.

  • Gagner is too small

    Gilbert is too soft

    Horcoff is a bum

    Penner doesn’t try hard enough…

    Give me one more of each of these guys and were a small, soft, bum-like and lazy playoff team. Why are some people obsessed with trying to start lynch mobs on actual NHL’ers?

  • I see you took Scrooges, er, I mean Robin Brownlee’s advice and wrote a negative “I told you so” piece. Good on you JW, way to be self depricating.
    Agreed, I thought Eberle would be Cogs part II. So far I am right on target, except the opposite. He has hands, some speed, nifty skills. In short, because we didnt Gagner him (ie rush him to the show), he is developing nicely for a change.