Jordan Eberle should be a man on a mission this summer.
As satisfying as it may have been to round out his game by playing much more responsible defensively, the Oilers winger must regain the offensive touch that brought him into the National Hockey League in 2010, albeit as an unfinished product.
He’ll be 27 on Monday; not a spring chicken anymore. He needs to work on his release, core strength and foot speed, to keep up with the 20-year-olds who are running away with the game.
Motivated by team success and personal disappointment — he scored just 20 goals in the regular season and went 13 playoff games without one — he plans to attack all of it and be better.
“I think, looking back at the season, the chances were there. You’ve just got to capitalize. That goes back to confidence issues, that goes back to just feeling good and putting the puck in the net.”
But the best set of tools is essentially useless without desire. Eberle has to put in a foundation of mental, physical and technical work that will bolster his lost confidence. And most importantly, he has to develop a willingness to go straight to the net, to take the game head-on, rather than continue playing around its edges.
He had 22 shots on goal and just two assists through the playoffs. Not nearly good enough.
“That’s the biggest thing, that’s the one that really stings,” he said. “You take this long to get to the playoffs and you don’t perform and play to your standards. That’s what hurts.”
He started slowly, it snowballed, and he looked for ways to contribute. But he’s a goal scorer and too often he looked lost on the ice, when you noticed him at all.
“I like to think of myself as a goal scorer. So if that’s not happening, you’ve got to be able to do something. So I tried to be a bit more physical in the playoffs and play with a little bit more edge. But ultimately you want to score, put the puck in the net. If we do that, especially our line, in the last series I think we have a better chance of winning.”
He’ll have to live with that regret awhile, and he’d love the chance to make amends next season. But there is no telling when or if Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will call off Eberle’s mission. Chiarelli certainly isn’t going to stand pat on a roster that won a playoff round and came within a whisker of another. Players will be coming and going, as always.
Eberle is a bona fide commodity, though obviously a pricey one at $6 million U.S. He has averaged 27 goals per 82 games played as an NHLer. That’s a very good number. But he is coming off a disappointing playoff run and if there is an upgrade to be made at right wing, one that will help them win in the post-season, Chiarelli might not hesitate.
After all, he traded Taylor Hall, who had to watch the Oilers make the playoff run that eluded him here. It would be a shame for Eberle, another Oiler lifer, to miss out on the next one. He’s 507 regular season games into his tenure in Edmonton, and the team is just now turning itself into a contender.
“Obviously this team took a huge jump this year, a huge leap in the way that we performed and I loved being a part of it,” Eberle said Friday. “You watched this city and how it went during the playoff run. I heard about it the whole time I was here and finally got a taste of it. I loved it. So, obviously, I want to be back and be a part of that. It’s a special group right now.”
He can make it better one of two ways. The least appealing for him would be to follow Hall out of town and bring the Oilers a piece of the puzzle they need to go at least another round. If he stays, he can certainly help them more on offence and defence than he did this year.
“He’s a tremendous player,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “He scores 20, 25 goals every season. You can count on it and that’s not going away. … We didn’t get to the playoffs without him. He had an impact on our team, especially down the stretch when we won I don’t know, 15 of 18 games, he was a key, key piece.
“You can’t completely evaluate him and pin his whole season on the playoffs. Of course that’s a time when you want guys to rise to the occasion. He didn’t quite get it done but he’s a very important asset for our team and confidence is huge moving forward. He’ll get it back and he’ll be just fine.”
(Dan Barnes/Edmonton Journal)