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Eagerly awaiting Eberle

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers
Jordan Eberle celebrates after scoring the game-tying goal with 5.4 seconds left on the clock in the semifinal game between Canada and Russia at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships. Eberle later scored the game-winning goal in a shootout. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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Oh, what a difference 5.4 seconds makes. The Oilers, of course, were fully aware of Jordan Eberle’s potential to be a superstar sniper when they drafted him in the first round last summer, but it took a trio of goals in the do-or-die semifinals at the 2009 World Junior Championships – including a clinch backhand stunner in the dying seconds of regulation that salvaged Team Canada’s gold medal hopes – to get the rest of the nation on board.

The Eberle bandwagon was mighty full following that exciting win over Russia, and though WJC teammate John Tavares has recruited some of those fans for his NHL Entry Draft ride, the young center isn’t too far from the thoughts – and hopes – of Oil Country’s biggest supporters.

Like many, Oilers Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast was impressed by Eberle’s WJC performance, but his praise doesn’t start or end there.

“He’s a special player and he had a special year coming in and playing in the pressure he played in,” Prendergast says. “He responded to every situation he had over the course of this year, and he had an outstanding training camp with us last year. As (Oilers new Head Coach and former Team Canada coach) Pat Quinn said to us, he thinks he’s got ice for veins.”

That ice is firmly rooted in Regina. Born and raised in the Saskatchewan capital, Eberle was selected by the Regina Pats in the 2005 WHL Entry Draft. In his rookie season, the 16-year-old led the team with 28 goals, adding 27 assists and 32 penalty minutes in 66 games.

As a sophomore, Eberle doubled his numbers to top the Pats leaderboard, finish third in league scoring, and be selected to the CHL Top Prospects game and the WHL East First All-Star Team. After earning the Doc Seaman Trophy as the WHL’s scholastic player of the year, he capped the season with a first-round selection in the 2008 Entry Draft by the team he always idolized: the Edmonton Oilers.

Jordan Eberle surveys his surroundings after putting on an Oilers jersey for the first time at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Sam Gagner (right) looks on.
Follow that up with a third successful Pats season, stardom on the international stage, and a seamless nine-game pro debut with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons and you’ve got yourself a “dreams do come true” tale of the highest hockey caliber.

But as compelling as Eberle’s storyline is, it’s his scoring ability that holds Prendergast’s attention.

“He brings something to the table that we desperately need in that he finds ways to get the puck in the net,” the Oilers exec explains. “Nothing bothers him. He’s a quick learner. He finds ways to get into open areas to score, and that’s important for a hockey player.”

At his first Oilers training camp last fall, Eberle showcased skills and maturity that defied his size and age. At 5’10” and 180 pounds, the 18-year-old was unable to muscle his way into the big club’s roster but received high praise from then Head Coach Craig MacTavish.

“He was a highly impressive kid, the way that he thinks the game,” MacTavish said after the first deep round of cuts. “We’ve talked before about coaches always communicating with the scouts about identifying guys that have hockey sense and can think their way around the ice, and they definitely did that with this kid.”

“[I had] a lot of positive things to talk to him about,” MacTavish told to the media. “It’s just working on your strength, quickness and stuff like that – things that you certainly can address through work ethic and summer programs . . . I don’t think he’s that far away. He’ll be knocking at the door next year for sure.”

I think he’s one of those kids that can play in front of 19,000 people or out on the lake with his buddies and he feels the same mindset. - Kevin Prendergast, Oilers Assistant GM
With the Oilers’ door firmly locked for another three months, it’s too early to say if MacTavish’s prediction will come true. But last year’s camp also left good impressions on Prendergast – “He didn’t look out of place at all except for the strength factor in some situations,” he stated – and the Assistant GM anticipates more good things this September.

“Certainly we think he’s going to have every opportunity at training camp to maybe be a part of the Oilers. If not, it isn’t going to hurt him to go back to Regina for another year and play in another World Junior Championship. But from a standpoint of prospects in the organization, we certainly consider him to be blue chip.”

If Eberle’s season-ending stint in Springfield is any indication, regular appearances in a pro jersey may not be far off.

“He had nine points in nine games – it didn’t seem to bother him,” Prendergast says of the prospect’s transition from the WHL to the AHL. “He just floated right in there and adapted very quickly to the pace of the game. He went from playing with boys to playing with men without missing a beat. I think he’s one of those kids that can play in front of 19,000 people or out on the lake with his buddies and he feels the same mindset.”

For Oilers fans and Team Canada supporters alike, more big-arena performances from Eberle are certainly on the wish list this winter.

Visit every Friday in May and June as we profile the top six Oilers prospects with the team’s Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast.

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