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Healthy Eberle seeks breakout season for Oilers

by Derek Van Diest

Jordan Eberle is ready to take his game to the next level.

The Edmonton Oilers' aspirations of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs depend in large part on the right wing doing that.

Heading into his fifth NHL season, Eberle is a key member of the Oilers' young, talented core expected to lead the team back to playoff contention.

The Oilers have not qualified for the playoffs since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, when Eberle, 24, was playing midget hockey in Calgary.

"I feel that responsibility, I've felt it for the last two years," Eberle said. "We core guys get a lot of minutes, we get a lot of opportunity out there. Our teammates, the organization and fans look to us to be the guys to put the puck in the net and to create momentum out there.

"This year, they'll be counting on us again, for sure. I'm a year older, I'm a year more mature and I'm really looking forward to getting things going."

Selected in the first round (No. 22) of the 2008 NHL Draft, Eberle has long been projected to be one of the Oilers' next stars. He had a solid 2013-14 season with 28 goals and 65 points in 80 games, finishing second in team scoring to Taylor Hall, the other half of the Dynamic Duo.

Eberle is looking to improve on his offensive output, and hopefully help drag the Oilers closer to a playoff position.

"Anytime you go into the year, you're excited, there is a lot of potential and you're going in with a clean slate," Eberle said. "I like the acquisitions we made, I think we really added some size, especially on the back end. Up front too with Teddy [Purcell] and [Benoit] Pouliot, I think we've added some good size and more scoring.

"I'm looking forward to the season and more than anything, the familiarity with the coach (Dallas Eakins). It seems like the last few years, coming into a new season with a different coach, you're always starting fresh, and this year we get to pick up where we left off. I'm really looking forward to that."

In his four previous seasons with the Oilers, Eberle has played for four different coaches. His best production came under the tutelage of Tom Renney, when he scored 34 goals and 76 points in his sophomore season.

The following year, in a lockout-shortened campaign, Eberle scored 16 goals and 37 points in 48 games under Ralph Krueger.

He comes into this season healthy and fit, having taken full advantage of an extended offseason.

Eberle finished last season nursing a wrist injury, which fortunately did not require surgery this summer.

"I've never felt better," Eberle said. "I think not going to the World Championships, I had an extra month to train and correct my body, and I feel better than I ever have before.

"I think more than anything I had more time to train. I think being in the Worlds the last four years, whenever we get off, they're just about to go into the Stanley Cup Final. So it's like playing in four Stanley Cups. Having that extra time and that extra month, I feel a lot more leaner, I feel faster, and just being on the ice I feel good. I think that's the main thing."

A year ago, the Oilers got off to a slow start and were out of the playoff race by the second month of the season. In order for them to be in contention this go around, they'll need to keep pace with the pack from the onset.

"I think that's the biggest key this year, we have to get off to a good start," Eberle said. "Last year, I think we started 4-16 (4-14-2) and that made things really tough. We definitely dug ourselves a hole, and I think when you start that way as a team you don't have very much confidence. To get off to a good start and realize that we can play against anybody, I think that's the key."

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