EDMONTON – Jordan Eberle’s first season with the Edmonton Oilers has been impressive by any measure.
He missed 13 games with a sprained left ankle and has played for a 30th-place team riddled by injuries and challenged to score goals. But Eberle goes into Tuesday’s rematch with the Vancouver Canucks having met or exceeded just about every expectation placed on him this season.
With the game-winning goal and an assist in Saturday’s 4-1 upset of the Canucks in Vancouver, Eberle sits eighth in rookie scoring with 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in 65 games.
If Eberle, 20, can register two more points in his final four games, he’ll not only surpass the 42 points compiled by highly touted rookie teammate Taylor Hall, who was taken first overall in last June’s entry draft, he’ll finish as Edmonton’s leading scorer.
And his 65 games make him the senior member of a line including fellow rookies Chris VandeVelde and Teemu Hartikainen against Vancouver.
“I think if you look at the start of the season, I came in with a knowledge of what it was going to be like and I played pretty consistent and well through most of the season,” he said. “Then, I got hurt.
“Obviously, that was a step back, but I came back and jumped right back in the lineup. I felt I was kind of right where I was before. Then, as we were getting some injuries, I went through a lull. I think most rookies go through that. It’s only been the last five or six games I’ve felt I’m out of that.”
While Eberle’s points total hardly rates as prolific, it’s certainly respectable on an Edmonton club with just 186 goals, which ranks 28th, through 78 games. Jeff Skinner of Carolina leads all rookie scorers with 58 points, four more than San Jose’s Logan Couture.
Oilers coach Tom Renney said Eberle has been a victim of circumstance, having to carry the offensive load with season-ending injuries to Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Hall.
“Not to take anything away from his teammates and the people he lines up with on a nightly basis, but if you eliminate our top scorers out of the equation here, he’s not playing with people who have a level of competence that would enhance his offence,” Renny said. “It’s fair to say he’s done an excellent job staying with the pack in terms of rookie scoring.
“He’s done an excellent job of contributing to our needs any way as a rookie player.”
Hemsky, Gagner and Hall, out for the season with injuries, are tied for the team scoring lead with 42 points.
“I think it’s a little bit unfortunate he got injured there,” captain Shawn Horcoff said. “At that point, he was really playing well.
“I think he’s done really well. He’s been really good since he’s been back. In terms of development, I think you have to be happy with where he’s at. The kid does everything so well. He’s a smart player.”
Statistics aside, there’s been a lot to like about Eberle, who has averaged almost 18 minutes of ice time a game. He has killed penalties, worked the power play and taken a regular shift.
“I think he’s done a real good job of assimilating the length of the this season and how taxing it is on you, both mentally and physically,” Renney said. “He’s battled through some stretches where he’s been just OK to elevate his game and get back what he’s all about.
“All of those things point in a good direction for him. He continues to remain coachable and pliable as a player to the needs of our team and what we’re offering up for him as a player for the long run.”
Eberle and Hall, 19, share an apartment in Edmonton, so the stakes might be a little higher than usual as far as bragging rights for being the team’s scoring leader.
“Me and Hallsy, when we were playing together we were in on most of the same goals anyway,” smiled Eberle. “It wasn’t like we were competing, really. It was more like we were trying to help each other play well.
“We compete against each other more off the ice with stupid little things like playing darts or pool or anything like that. It hurts a little bit more when he beats you.”
The stretch Eberle missed after being injured against Calgary on Jan.1 likely cost him serious consideration for the Calder Trophy as top rookie. But that’s not something the former Regina Pats’ star spends much time thinking about.
“I don’t think you can judge a player only on points,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re making plays and putting the puck in the net, something is going right. I think you have to judge it more on performance.
“Like I said, over the past five or six games, I’ve really felt like I’ve almost seen the game get slower, if that makes sense. I’m reading the play a lot better. That aspect is what I was looking for as far as the season.
“I was hoping the game would get slower and it would get easier. It’s the NHL, so it’s never easy, but it’s slowed down for me.”
Note to readers: Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Eberle with 43 assists.