EDMONTON – By the time Magnus Paajarvi and Taylor Hall made a big bang at their coming out party with the Edmonton Oilers, Jordan Eberle’s impressive, albeit more understated, pre-season debut was in the books.
With all eyes on the rookie trio, dubbed the Big Three by Oilers fans, Paajarvi and Hall grabbed the spotlight in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. Paajarvi stole the show with three goals and an assist. Hall had one goal, was stopped on a breakaway and rattled a puck off the post.
While Paajarvi and Hall had fans buzzing, the talk among some veterans in the dressing room Friday was that Eberle’s first outing, Wednesday in a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks, was every bit as good.
Eberle didn’t produce any points or highlight reel moments in Vancouver, but he teamed with centre Shawn Horcoff to play Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin to a standstill in a match-up of first lines.
That didn’t go unnoticed.
“It was pretty exciting to watch those guys put the puck in the net,” Eberle said of Paajarvi and Hall. “For Maggy, that’s a pretty big breakout game for him.
“Any time you see guys like that do that, you get excited. Watching the game, I wanted to be out there so bad, but it’s tough to get all of us in the lineup at the same time.”
Eberle, 20, selected 22nd overall by the Oilers from Regina of the WHL in 2008, had 50 goals and 106 points in just 57 games with the Pats last season.
That’s the identical points total Hall had with the Windsor in regular season before leading the Spitfires to a second straight Memorial Cup title last on the way to being drafted first overall by the Oilers.
“There’s obviously some friendly rivalry,” said Eberle, in his third camp with the Oilers. “You want to out-compete each other. At the same time, you’re happy to see guys produce when they get an opportunity.
“I was happy with the way we played in our game. We were matched up against the Sedins the whole night and we shut them down. We not only shut them down, I thought we outplayed them.”
Horcoff, who broke in with the Oilers as a defensive centre, sees a lot in Eberle’s game.
“I’m just really impressed with the way he thinks the game,” Horcoff said of Eberle. “He makes the little plays. He does all the right things.
“I find when I’m supporting him, it’s a little, quick call and the puck is on my stick. He’s a lot stronger on the puck than I thought he would be. He’s good at cycling the puck and he’s got great vision.”
Defenceman Ryan Whitney, who watched the show put on by Paajarvi and Hall against Tampa Bay from the press box, played in Vancouver. He has nothing but good things to say about Eberle.
“I actually said it to myself last night, ‘I hope he’s not sitting at home and thinking about that he didn’t score in Vancouver,'” Whitney said.
“He seems mature enough to know it doesn’t matter right now. I mean, he played really well. In this game, some people think if that if you’re a forward and you’re not scoring you’re not playing well.
“He’s so skilled and smart with the puck. He’s going to get a lot of points. They’re going to come. He doesn’t have to force it just because the other two put up some points last night.”
Eberle, who played on a line with Paajarvi and Hall at a rookie camp in Penticton before main camp, will likely be back in the lineup in a rematch against Vancouver at Rexall Place on Sunday.
“I think he’s going to be a versatile guy,” Horcoff said. “There’s 10 guys in the league who all they have to do is score 50 goals or get 80 points. That’s all they have to worry about.
“For the rest of us, the other 680 guys, you’ve got to play well at both ends of the rink. Never underestimate the value of a forward who can play good defence. All signs point to him being able to do that.”
Eberle would like nothing more than to give fans something to cheer about Sunday, but that’s not his focus. Doing whatever it takes to earn a roster spot is.
“Obviously, it’s nice to put the puck in the net,” Eberle said. “If you’re not getting chances and not doing anything out there, then it’s something to worry about.
“I’m excited about the way we played. We not only shut their line down, we had more chances than they did.”