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Injured Eberle could return ahead of schedule

by Corey Masisak
COLUMBUS -- After Jordan Eberle fell awkwardly Dec. 7 in Dallas, the timetable for his return from a right knee injury was two-to-three weeks.

Eberle skated with the Edmonton Oilers at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday morning, and could return slightly ahead of schedule. He won't play here against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the second-year wing and team's leading scorer did not rule a return Thursday night in St. Louis against the Blues.

"I definitely feel ahead of schedule. I've taken care of it and rehabbed it and I feel good," Eberle said.

Not initially expected to join the Oilers on this road trip, Eberle skated with the team for the first time Tuesday since the injury, which he said was a strain of one of the ligaments in the back of his knee. The Oilers play at home Saturday against rival Calgary, and that would be exactly two weeks after the injury.

Eberle may be healing quickly, but that also doesn't mean the Oilers are going to forego being cautious.

"He's close," coach Tom Renney said. "You look at his age and how long you hope he's going to be an Oiler first and foremost. From an unselfish prospective, you have to take care of the long run here. That being said, we'll make sure he's really ready to play."

Added Eberle: "It is very tough. One thing I've always noticed, especially with guys coming back from injury, is you don't really have 50 percent. You just always want to go at 100 and you don't want to hold yourself back. At times I want to go 100 percent but sometimes I feel it a little bit. Today was probably the best I've felt."

Eberle has thrived in his second season, and leads Edmonton with 43 points. He has fit well on the team's top line alongside No. 1 picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is also out with a shoulder injury.

The 21-year-old could be a candidate to replace one of the injured players at the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game if he does return and play a couple of games before any replacements are named. For now, he needs to put his knee through a full practice and then see if he can return Thursday or Saturday.

"It felt good. It is the excitement level of it -- you're back on the road, back with the team," Eberle said. "You get to shoot on goalies -- the whole nine yards. ... I haven't really been able to get into a contact situation in practice. Once I kind of get that in, I'll be the most ready to play."

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