There was never anything obvious about the Jordan Eberle selection.
For as long as I’ve been a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, I’ve been perplexed at the odd rumours and urban legends that consistently build up around the team. Recent storylines include the ‘Tommy Salo was broken by that goal against Belarus at the Olympics’ narrative and the ‘Marc Pouliot got drafted because Sidney Crosby made him look good’ story. Both are utterly without factual merit – and it takes less than five minutes of digging to confirm that – but they get repeated all the same.
A recent tendency has been to downplay the selection of Jordan Eberle at 22nd overall in 2008. My guess is that it’s a reaction to some of the more fervent support for Stu MacGregor seen here and elsewhere, but it’s misguided all the same. The Eberle selection was not by any stretch a no-brainer or an obvious choice.
Central Scouting ranked Eberle 33rd among North American skaters in their final 2008 draft rankings. Even assuming that no goaltenders should have been picked before him, and that no European skaters were in the mix either, that’s an early second-round slot.
The rankings in The Hockey News 2008 Draft Preview tell a similar story. When the Oilers picked at 22nd overall, there were still five players ranked above Eberle still available – Mattias Tedenby, Greg Nemisz, Colby Robak, Jacob Markstrom and Mikhail Stefanovich.
Bob McKenzie’s rankings at TSN are the best guide a fan has; his list had Eberle slotted in at 29th overall. Ahead of Eberle (and still available when the Oilers picked) were forwards Mattias Tedenby, Greg Nemisz, and Nicolas Deschamps, defensemen John Carlson, Tyler Cuma, and Colby Robak, goaltenders Jacob Markstrom and Thomas McCollum .
Eberle wasn’t an off-the-board pick – all three lists had him in the range of where the Oilers picked him – but there was nothing obvious about the selection either.
Looking back at what scouts were saying about Eberle, it’s easy to see why. Lowetide has two of the money quotes in this 2008 write-up:
Bob McKenzie in his TSN Top 30 (which is now the industry standard) told us he was “a somewhat under-sized centre and is considered one of the smartest offensive players in the draft. He is a better goal-scorer than a playmaker and is an elusive talent when he has the puck. There are some questions about his speed, but he does have quickness, especially in tight situations and one-on-ones.”
Michael Remmerde is a scout and Contributing Editor for Red Line Report. Remmerde says of Eberle that there is good (“great sniper’s touch. Knows how to find scoring chances. Quick hands. Will take a hit to make a play”) and some things that are a concern (“casual player – effort level is never there. Tends to stick to the perimeter”).
Every once in a while, someone pops up to tell us all that Sam Gagner was obviously a poor pick immediately, because small players need speed to get by. If a player isn’t big or fast, the reasoning goes, he’ll never be a difference maker in the NHL.
Jordan Eberle is neither big nor particularly fast. He’s described as a “casual” “perimeter” player who struggled with “effort level.” So: small, slow, and lazy. The prototypical Oiler of recent years, no? Meanwhile, 6’3" Greg Nemisz was putting up solid point totals in the OHL, was available, and was ranked in the same range.
Fortunately for Oilers fans, Stu MacGregor and his scouting staff made the pick. They saw the tremendous goal-scoring skills and hockey sense possessed by Eberle. They looked past his flaws, looked by the Tedenby’s and Nemisz’s of the world, and picked the guy they thought was the best selection. History has shown it to be an inspired pick.
I’m not an unabashed admirer of Stu MacGregor and the Oilers’ scouting. They’ve made some mistakes, as all scouting services do. They deserve credit for the Hall and Nugent-Hopkins picks, but at the same time it’s also worth remembering that a grannie with nothing but a copy of The Hockey News would have made those same selections.
But they knocked it out of the park when they picked Jordan Eberle, and saying otherwise is simply wrong.