Like most players after they're traded, the first thing New York Islanders forward Jordan Eberle did on June 22 was check the schedule to see the first time he'd get to play against his former team.
"If anything, you want to beat them," said Eberle, who will face the Edmonton Oilers for the first time at Barclays Center on Tuesday. "It's a team that didn't want you, so you want to bring your best, play your best and get your teammates going so they can try and help you out for a win. I think that's the biggest thing. Anytime you have friends on an old team, you compete a little bit harder."
Eberle, 27, was Edmonton's first-round pick (No. 22) at the 2008 NHL Draft. He was a five-time 20-goal scorer with the Oilers and had 382 points (165 goals, 217 assists) in 507 games before being traded for forward Ryan Strome.
Eberle began the season with the Islanders as expected, on their top line next to center John Tavares. But coach Doug Weight has since separated them, and Eberle scored twice playing with rookie center Mathew Barzal in New York's 6-4 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. Eberle has four goals and seven assists in 14 games, and two multipoint games in the past four.
"It's figuring out the system, figuring out the style of game that we want to play," Eberle said. "That all comes with time. It's nice to score. I think you get chances, you want to put them in. It starts to frustrate you a bit, but now they're going in. You want to just keep riding it and keep doing the things that got you to that point."
Weight believes Eberle will produce more as he becomes more acclimated to playing in New York after seven seasons with Edmonton.
"He's a guy that we watch a lot of [video] with," Weight said. "You've been in an organization for seven or eight years, I wasn't in those tunnels. We stay on him in a positive manner and support him and try to get him out there in places to succeed.
"He's a heck of a player. It's always good to see him get on the board and contribute. I think he's going to get better and better for our team and be more comfortable. I learn more about him every game. It's definitely good to see him score."
Whether Eberle is reunited with Tavares on the top line remains to be seen, especially considering the chemistry Eberle and Barzal have shown. Barzal, a first-round pick by New York (No. 16) at the 2015 NHL Draft, had five assists Sunday and has a five-game point streak.
"He's been awesome," Barzal said of Eberle. "I sit with him on the plane. We talk lots of hockey together. He loves the game. It's been fun. He's a super nice guy and really approachable.
"He's super easy to play with. He's super smart, always in the right spot, really skilled. He likes to use his speed. He's been great for the team. I really like playing with him."
Edmonton won 47 games and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2006 and reached Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round before being eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks. But the Oilers have scored 30 goals in 13 games this season and are off to a 4-8-1 start.
"I haven't watched them enough to see what's going on," Eberle said. "With how the success happened last year, it's a little bit shocking, I think. I think it's probably shocked the League, not just myself. But they've got a good group over there and they've got a great coaching staff. I'm sure they'll figure it out."
They'll have to do it without Eberle, who insists there is no lingering animosity from the trade to New York. Perhaps he'll say hello to a few of his former teammates during warmups, but he'll be all business once the puck drops.
"Lots of fond memories," Eberle said. "No bad blood at all. I think like any player, there's people that you want to compete against over there. That's the best part of the game. You enjoy doing it."
(Brian Compton NHL.com)