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Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins occupy positions at the top of the marquee and the pay scale with the Edmonton Oilers, so it’s no big surprise GM Craig MacTavish expects them to perform like it.

What is somewhat surprising (and refreshing) is MacTavish came out and said so for public consumption in an interview with TSN’s Bob McKenzie, stating what more than a few fans have been thinking – if the Oilers are to return to playoff contention, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins have to be better.

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Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, along with Taylor Hall, have long-and-often been identified as the core of the team MacTavish is trying to build. They’ve been pretty good – occasionally brilliant — so far during their relatively brief NHL careers, but the boss is looking for more from both of them.

As he should.



“We all know Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle are really good players but what we don’t know is whether they are star players,” MacTavish told McKenzie as part of a wide-ranging interview you can read here.

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“They have a lot of room for growth…but they’ve had enough experience and enough time. I think, in fairness to them, they want this more so than anybody else. We need to see whether they’re going to be good players or whether they’re going to be star players.”

Eberle, 24, begins his fifth NHL season with the Oilers having scored 43, 76, 37 and 65 points in his first four seasons. That’s translated in points-per-game to .62, .97, .71 and .81 as the team’s top right winger. All told, he’s scored 96-125-221 in 275 games.

Nugent-Hopkins, 21, has three NHL seasons on his resume. He’s produced 52, 24 and 56 points, scoring at a rate of .84, .60 and .70 PPG as the team’s No. 1 centre. Slowed by a bad shoulder that required surgery, RNH has yet to be as prolific as he was in his rookie season when he tallied 18-34-52 in 62 games. Overall, he’s scored 41-91-132 in 182 games.

While MacTavish’s characterization of Eberle and RNH as “really good players” might be a touch pointed considering they and Hall have been thrown into the fray as kids without enough depth to protect them, he’s absolutely right. Now’s the time for both of them to elevate, as Hall has.



From where I sit, the biggest challenge facing Nugent-Hopkins remains the physical aspect of the game. Simply put, he has to stay healthy and he has to do it playing against a host of first-line centres in the Western Conference who are bigger and stronger than he is.

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It’s not like RNH has been injury prone – he injured an already troublesome shoulder by toe-picking and vaulting himself into the boards. He played 80 of 82 games last season. If he can stay in the line-up and produce at the .84 PPG pace he did as a rookie this season, many doubters will clam up.

I’m less concerned about Eberle. His career PPG of .80 on a team where opposing coaches have been able to key on him, Hall and RNH is pretty good in my books. Still, like MacTavish, I think there’s more, particularly with a forward group that will be deeper overall this season than it’s been in past seasons. Plus, with 275 games in the books, Eberle has been around the block enough times to know who and what he’s up against.

More, please.  



MacTavish also touched on Nail Yakupov, entering his third season after a 2013-14 campaign in which he struggled with 11-13-24 in 63 games under new coach Dallas Eakins, in his discussion with McKenzie.

“Development is seldom a straight line,” MacTavish said. “For very few people, maybe Sidney Crosby started here and went higher, but I think generally we put way too much pressure on young players.

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“I expect Nail to go in (to training camp), hopefully be able to breathe a little bit, take some pressure off and just gain some experience and continue to develop.”

The issues between Eakins and Yakupov we know. After tallying 17-14-31 in 48 games as a rookie, Yakupov’s erratic play and defensive lapses landed him in the doghouse with Eakins, a stay that included being made a healthy-scratch in back-to-back games.

I’m expecting a clean slate this season. If talk of same translates to action (and more power-play time) and Yakupov makes the most of it, I can see him scoring 25 goals, which is what I had him pegged for last season.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • I know Yak had some rough patches at the start of the year last year (on the third line), but as long as Eakins learned not to sewer the kid’s confidence right out of the gate, I think Yakupov will have a bounce back year. If he starts hot, look out.

  • bazmagoo

    The key to Oilers success seems like it’s going to be through depth, development, and committee. For example, if Ebs is having an off night, then Eakins has two other point producers for the right wing that have the opportunity to step up and contribute. As an opposing team, if all three scoring lines are firing, then which one do you try and put your top line out against?

    As these kids get better, that is going to be a more difficult question to answer. I would say though individually, Nuge was recovering from the shoulder thing, the power play was poor and that’s on the coach, and Yak was seriously under utilized, though arguably for good reason. If they can get the power play going again, all three of these players will see their point totals increase.

    For Yak, if they can find him a centre and some good linemates, he could really sky rocket.

    On that note, I am getting a bit more worries after watching Draisaitl ‘skate’. But am increasingly optimistic about Yakimov in short time. I am betting Klefbom and Yakimov get called up at some point during the year, and make their cases to stick.

    Nuge, Draisaitl, Yakimov, Gordon for the 2016 season. Now we are getting somewhere.

    • Draisaitl will never look quick, but I don’t see his skating as an issue. It’s adequate.

      Yakimov has been the most impressive of the centres at rookie camp. Let’s see him at main camp before putting him on the roster at some point this season.

      • Zarny

        and @ sizzay

        It appears I may have judged from his late 3rd period after the leg cramping. He looks much, much better today, and he has said he’s still not %100. So that is great to see. I respect that big guys never look quick, my issue though, again viewing the leg cramp period, was that his feet tend to stop moving a lot, and he’s not very smooth.

        I have been rather impressed with his playmaking though, and I think when he gets some NHL caliber line mates they’ll make dinner out of his dishes.

        I’m not exactly penciling him in opening night. But if he can adapt to the North American style game over the course of the year, it’s not out of this world to see an injury situation late in the season where they’d need to make a call up, and Yakimov could by then have made a great case for it. In short, he has played much better than what I was expecting.

  • Good Article RB!

    I’d like your take on the question of 7th dman. Seems to be a lot of chatter about Marancin having to prove himself? Not sure about you, but he proved himself last year to me as did Arco. I know the pedigree and hope for Kleffbom is high but I don’t see him better than Marancin. Nurse will be back in the Soo even though he might make that decision awfully hard.

  • RB, I tend to agree with previous comment about Draisaitl’ s skating. Many experts that are way more knowledgeable than me, but watching him in junior games he just didn’t stand out; except on the scoresheet, which i guess is all that matters. For instance Hayden Fleury was immediately noticeable on the ice to me. Same with Reinhart, Virtanen, etc….maybe Leon had off nights when i watched him….let’s hope!

  • Guy Lafleur

    Man people have short memories.

    Just two years ago Hall was considered by many commentators to be injury prone and the weak link in the Hall-Nuge-Eberle trio, now everyone is wondering why all the other kids aren’t like Hall.

    For a change Hall, Nuge and Eberle are all healthy and can feel a little less scared about the players who are behind them. I would be shocked if they don’t all have their best seasons yet.

    As for Nail. The poor kid has been sitting at third on the RW depth chart for two years on a team that has only been icing two scoring lines. Yet despite this, I’m pretty sure he’s out pacing Hall for goals scored after an equal number of career games.

    If Nail gets 2nd line ice time he’ll score 20 for sure, and 30 if everything breaks his way.

    • pkam

      Brandon Sutter? 26 pts and -9 in 81 games in a team with +42 goal differential, played 6 NHL seasons and never had a season with more than 40 pts. This is the best you can come up with?

      Even you don’t like RNH and want to trade him, please come up with something closer in value. We have spent 4 years to fill the cupboard (and it is still not completely full), with trades like this, we can empty it in no time.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    The nuges bad shoulder really threw him off. we could see it in the AHL, world junior and during the NHL season. I felt it was a poor decision to let it drag on like they did. should have got the surgery asap. I think his first off season to train will help. He really looked his best as a rookie(when he was healthy). I expect big things from him.

    Hall is our crosby. hes gotten better every year and theres no doubt about him. future team canada player.

    Eberle is solid. He seems to have more optimism in the interviews ive seen this off season. Hes talking about being more consistent.

    The awesome thing about these 3 is that they can all get better. They should also play as our top line more than they did last year. If hall or eberle get better or nuge has his breakout year, we will see all their pt totals go up.

  • bazmagoo

    Really starting to get excited about the new season. If Hall, Eberle, RNH and Yak score 5 more goals each on average (a conservative assumption) and Pouliot & Purcell come in at around 15-20 we could very well be pushing for a playoff spot. Now wouldn’t that be something!

    Even though the centre position is a weak spot, I’m still mostly concerned about Eakins. Personally I think he should be under the most amount of pressure in the organization. I think Arcobello earns himself an NHL job this season and comes in at around 40 points. Draisaitl is a big question mark in my mind, wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Lander out dual him for 3rd line duties in camp and be sent back to the CHL.

  • bazmagoo

    I was impressed with MacT’s accurate analysis of the criticality of RNH’s performance on the Oil’s results his year.

    RNH has been outstanding for a 18-19-20 year old competing in a man’s league. But for the Oiler to be successful he needs to be able to hold his own with the big boys like Kopitar, Getzlaf etc. So far he has been a skid mark up against these guys.

    I’m remain to be convinced that RNH’s struggles against these types is just a shoulder injury, but we will find out a lot this year.

    Eberle at 24 is as hood as he will get, and if he can hover around the 30 goal make for the next 5 years will be good value.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Although I’d like to see another option for 2C, I have think Arco is penciled in there with Yak and Perron. I’m confident Arco can handle it for a while. He really put in the effort on the 2nd line last year. He has to. I don’t know if he can do it for the season.

    If Draisaitl is penciled in, I hope it’s on the 3rd ‘scoring’ line.

    I’m not as concerned with Yak’s missed goal scoring opportunities (we all expect more of him) as much as his defence. As long as this part is game continues to improve, he should get the ice time.

    And if Perron can handle Yak’s laser like passes, he’s going to benefit as well.

    Breakout year for Yak1!!

  • bazmagoo

    I guess it’s fair to say if the Oilers ever want to be a contender, then Ebs and Nuge have to be better. But are we really complaining about a 24 year old kid who was 1 point shy of tying Hemsky’s best season ever?

  • bazmagoo


    Since lockout:

    point rank of player: Hall #6; Eberle #25

    Wing pair rank: Hall-Eberle #1 232 pt.

    OK MacT I guess you want them to be supper/dupper
    #1 and #2 wing pairs playing 40 min a night.

  • bazmagoo

    There is no time limit on Hope. At this time of the year its renewed over again for all 30 NHL teams. Here in Edmonton its not spring that brings hope to beleaguered Oiler fans but September and October. Today I sat and listened to the Oilers rookie team and that filled me with hope for the teams present and its future.

  • bazmagoo

    Zarny: Who has been a top 30 goal scorer. Hall, Eberle, RNH, Yak. Perron

    Player: 10-11 / 11-12 / 12-13 / 13-14

    Hall: (69) / (41) / (35) / (33) (none) 22nd g scoring W

    Eberle: (121) / (15) / (35) / (26) (twice) 8th best G scoring W

    RNH: (n/a) / (117) / (305) / (102) not RNH

    Yakupov: (N/a) / (n/a) / (28) / (xx) (once) #65 G scoring W

    Perron: (INJ) / (85) / (115) / (26) (once) 36th G scoring W

    • Zarny

      Cool. What’s your point?

      My reply was to a comment saying Yakupov was outpacing Hall at that stage of his career.

      Just to be anal, I looked up how many goals Taylor Hall scored in the final 15 games of his 2nd season…7.

      So after 111 NHL games Hall had 42 G to Yakupov’s 28…Taylor wins.

      Did Yakupov score at a faster pace than Hall over his first 48 games? Yep…by 1 G. Hall had 16 G in his first 48 games. I guess it’s too bad Yak only had 11 G over his next 63 games finishing tied for 215th last year. That’s what your (xx) was…215th.

  • bazmagoo

    The blind spot in Oiler Clown Land RE: Jordan Eberle astounds me. The guy has as many points in the last 3 years in as many games as Corey Perry for cryin out loud. Eberle is not a star? My a$$ he’s not a star.

    • J.R.

      Dude, I like your style.

      As much as I like to debate the shortcomings of the team, at this stage of the game (new season, another chance) I much prefer to just be a regular diehard fan.

      I would never dare call Kevin Lowe “six rings”…because you know what? That’s Kevin Lowe and he does know a bunch about winning. I also love the Mact signing. Good coach and so far so good as a GM. Hall was a better choice than Seguin. We shouldnt trade Yak or Schultz and yes Eberle is a star.

      Oilers all day.

      • NJ

        RE: Hall vs Seguin

        I don’t think we could’ve gone wrong with EITHER player. My understanding is that Seguin has matured significantly and I have to be honest and say that our center depth would look a heck of a lot better with Seguin / RNH as 1 & 2. From a positional standpoint, I take a center all day long.

        That being said, Taylor Hall is one of the most dynamic wingers I see play the game. He’s freaking unreal. I’m glad we’re lucky enough to get a lot more of watching him and hope that his occasional kamikaze charge to the net doesn’t lead him into an injury riddled career.

    • Serious Gord

      Over the last four years perry has 276 pts in 287 games (plus 44)

      Eberle has 221 in 275. (-22)

      BIG difference.

      Eberle is a very good player but he his not at the same level as Perry.

      Not yet. And perhaps not ever.

      • pkam

        Your are a true spin doctor. To support your argument, you not only include Corey best year, but the year when Eberle was a rookie.

        Isn’t it more reasonable to compare Corey’s stats in his first 4 NHL seasons to Eberle’s?

        Is Eberle already at the same level as Perry? Probably not as Perry is 29 and right at his prime, and Eberle is only 24 and has not even entered his prime. But Eberle is very closed even he is 5 years younger.

  • Zarny

    I think Yakupov will be our very own Brett Hull.

    As for the “core” of the team, Bob S, tried to list the members of that group to Mac T. Mac T.’s response was he didn’t want to single out the members of the core so those that weren’t in that list didn’t feel like they weren’t part of that group(I am clumsily paraphrasing). But that whispered Yakupov to me.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Nobody outside Edmonton questions these guys’ ability to cause pucks to go into nets.

    It’s their ability to prevent pucks from going into nets that’s in doubt.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Well Young Stars Tournament over for this year . Seems evident so far that Arco and Landers will have little problem beating out Yakimov or Drasaitl for center spots to start season . Still early , but the only player that might crack roster from our squad might be Nurse . The rest are getting better but still not at an NHL capable level . Yakimov has been a pleasant surprise and one hopes he can carry early success when up against NHL types . Maybe Draisaitl will show better against NHL talent than he did at Young Stars Tournament ? Now to practice and get game shape ready . On chances to make team out of 5 , I give Nurse a 2 and1/2 , Yakimov a 2, and Draisaitl 1 and 1/2 .

  • Serious Gord

    While Nail is a key player who – if he plays well – will make Eakins job in terms of line combos a lot easier.

    But as RNH goes this season, so go the oilers.

    Looking at it from an opposing teams perspective, he is the only player that matters. With so little depth at centre, it is simple logic to key on RNH. Pummel him at every opportunity. Stick him. hook him, slash him, maul him. Make him carry around one of your centers or defensemen all game long. By the third period he be spent.

    And by the third game in four days (oct 14-17 is one so we will see this very early in the season), he will be mush.

    HE’s going to need help. I hope mact has some ace in his pocket, because there’s nothing at camp that is going to work.

  • Kodiak


    Wow…did you just go back one more year and add Corey Perry’s Hart Trophy year and compare it to Jordan Eberle’s rookie year? LOL.
    Nice try. You realize Perry is 29 and Eberle is 24 right?

    Why don’t we stick to a 3 year comparison ok bud. Or we could compare their rookie years too where Eberle actually has him on PPG as well.

    My point wasn’t to say Eberle was as good as Perry. That’s not the argument. Perry is the better player no arguments there. I am just trying to illustrate the company Eberle keeps in the NHL from an offensive perspective and how undervalued he is in this market.

    • Serious Gord

      No I took all of the data that eberle has had in the nhl and compared it to perry for the same period.

      The counter accusation at you would be that you deliberately did not include the great year that Perry had.

      Right now eberle is not in the same echelon of players that perry et al are. Thus he isn’t in the same ‘company’ and I think he is pretty fairly valued here and elsewhere.

      • Kodiak

        When you cherry pick this bad, it really hurts your credibility SG. Comparing the last three full seasons:

        Eberle – 178pts in 206games

        Perry – 178pts in 205 games

        Or we can compare Perry and Eberle in their first 4 seasons in the league:

        Eberle – 221pts in 275 games

        Perry – 195pts in 286 games

        To compare a player with his rookie season stats to another player without his rookie season stats is a crock, and you know it. I think the point was that nobody is questioning Perry’s scoring over the last three years and he’s produced identically to Eberle, playing in front of better defence that can move the puck to him a lot better than what Eberle has had behind him.

        • camdog

          Why are people comparing Perry to Eberle? Perry is one of the most respected players in the league because he is hard to play against, is Eberle hard to play against? Oilers fans always forget that there is more to being a great player than just scoring points.

  • Serious Gord


    Yeah.ok. You compared the first four years of Eberle’s career to the last 4 years of a 29 year old star in his prime. Not exactly an apples to apples comparison which ironically enough only strengthens my argument which is that Jordan Eberle scored at the exact same pace as an in-Prime Corey Perry in the last 3 years.

    Again…if you would read what I wrote, I said Corey Perry is the better player. I am just providing context to how frickin good Eberle is at this point in his career especially.

  • camdog


    Re-read my posts and the others after it.

    Tell me what you don’t get. The comparison was there to illustrate HOW GOOD Eberle is and the company he keeps offensively. I explicitly stated that Perry was the better player.