Given the large media contingent waiting for Jordan Eberle after Wednesday's practice at Community Arena in Edmonton, his return feels like a much-anticipated event.
After playing seven seasons in Edmonton, Eberle will play his first game as an opposing player on Thursday when the Islanders take on the Oilers. If anyone has been anticipating this one, it's the man himself.
"I'm happy to be back," Eberle said on Wednesday. "I'm really not sure what to expect. I'm excited. I have a lot of good memories here, I enjoyed my time here, I still have tons of friends on the team and the fans and everyone. It's an awesome place to play… Hopefully they give me a warm welcome."
Eberle was a solid offensive player for the Oilers, racking up 382 points (165G, 217A) in 507 games. As consistent as Eberle's individual production was - with five 20-goal seasons - the lack of team success took its toll and even by the time they made the playoffs last season, his confidence had taken a hit and he felt he needed a change of scenery.
"I was really down in a mental state anyways," Eberle said. "It sucks to say because we're hockey players and are supposed to have thick skin. I like to think of myself as having that, but there's only so many times you can get beaten up. I just really needed a refreshment this summer as far as trading and obviously the change."
That's where the Islanders come in, as the team acquired Eberle on June 22 for Ryan Strome. For Eberle, moving to Long Island provided an opportunity for a fresh start.
"It was really the first time I was excited and had an extra jump in my step and I felt great," Eberle said. "I felt like I was going to get a great opportunity here which I did. I was just re-energzied."
Eberle is third on the Islanders with 23 goals and has 47 points this season, solidifying the team's second line with Mathew Barzal, the team's leading scorer. The Islanders had an idea of what they were getting when they picked up Eberle over the summer, but he's brought even more.
"He's a really good kid and his ability offensively is there, or if not better than what I thought it would be honestly," Islanders Head Coach Doug Weight said. "He can make small plays, he's got an accurate shot, very intelligent and his effort away from the puck, his forechecking, he just really is a coachable kid and has taken a step in all areas. We're lucky to have him."
Video: LAK@NYI: Eberle roofs wrister top shelf for OT winner
When Eberle was acquired, it was assumed that he was brought in to play alongside John Tavares. That's how Eberle started the season, but the two didn't rekindle their World Juniors and World Championship magic from years earlier. Eberle had no goals in his first 10 games with the team, so Weight moved him to the second line and his game took off immediately.
Eberle scored two goals in his first game playing alongside Barzal in the Islanders 6-2 win over the Nashville Predators and has 23 goals in 56 games since being paired with the rookie. Of Eberle's 23 goals, Barzal has an assist on 18 of them. Eberle has assisted on seven of Barzal's 18 goals, including all three in hat trick against Winnipeg on Dec. 23.
"He's super easy to play with," Barzal said. "Top end skill in the NHL. I love playing with him."
"They've been tremendous this season, you can see their chemistry and their ability to feed off one another. Their games compliment each other really well," Tavares said. "Knowing Ebs from our time in junior, it's amazing how quick his hands are, how smart he is out there and he's got a great release both forehand and backhand, so he's always a threat."
Their chemistry extends off the ice, with the two usually trading barbs in the Isles' locker room. Barzal comes at Eberle, but Eberle's usually quick with a comeback - another skill born out of playing eight years in the league. Barzal said there's an older brother-younger brother dynamic between him and Eberle at Wednesday's practice in Edmonton.
"We're not hanging out all day long, but he's one of my best friends on the team," Barzal said. "I have a really good relationship with him, I go to his house every once in a while and hang out. He's kind of a younger soul."
The adjustment off the ice has been a smooth one for Eberle, who was traded for the first time in his career over the summer. Eberle was walking into a new situation, but not blindly because a year before he was traded, his former Oilers teammate and close friend Taylor Hall was dealt to New Jersey.
Hall was in Eberle's wedding party over the summer and gave him some insight for what to expect walking out of the Canadian prairies and into the Tri-State Area.
Video: EDM@NYI: Eberle roofs great shot past Talbot
"I kind of told him it's going to be a lot different than Edmonton," Hall said. "We both grew up in that microscope, in that fishbowl kind of. Coming here they love their hockey for sure, but you kind of blend in as one of the citizens and I think he's really enjoyed that aspect."
Eberle's enjoyed some of the anonymity of being on Long Island. He and his wife make regular trips to the city to see shows or play tour guide for friends and family flocking to New York. He and Hall have met up for dinners in Manhattan and basketball games in Brooklyn and while they don't meet up as often as they would like, they're happy for each other's success in a new place.
"It's fun to see him do well," Eberle said. "He's an unbelievable player and the way things have gone for both of us and you never thought we'd be in this situation, but we are and I think both of us are enjoying it."
Playing well on the ice has helped, but Eberle also had the benefit of having friends like Tavares and Thomas Hickey - one of his offseason training partners - to ease him into the room. Plus the suburban nature of Long Island isn't quite the culture change of trading Edmonton for the Upper East Side.
"Everything that I've heard he's settled in well with his wife there and they have a nice place and sounds like he lives in a neighborhood, which is no different than Edmonton and probably makes the change a bit easier," Hall said. "Him finding that chemistry with Barzal on that line made the transition a lot easier because at the end of the day you're there to play hockey."
Eberle's two lives will intersect on Thursday night and as happy as he is to be back and see old friends, he'll be happier to leave with two points.
"It's a big night for him tomorrow," Barzal said. "Hopefully we can get a win for him."