EDMONTON – Conventional wisdom dictates there are still growing pains to come and a long way to go, but rookies Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Taylor Hall are making their way along the learning curve with the Edmonton Oilers quite nicely.
Nine games into their NHL careers, Eberle, Paajarvi and Hall, dubbed the Big Three by Oilers fans, have been anything but small amid considerable expectations as the youthful focal point of a team in full-on rebuild mode after a 30th-place finish last season.
Eberle leads all rookie scorers with eight points. Paajarvi sits in fifth with six points and Hall, the youngest of the youthful trio, sits 13th with five points after back-to-back two-point games.
The work-in-progress is progressing.
“The important word is progress and they’re making it,” coach Tom Renney said. “We’re measuring their progress in maybe less significant ways than the general public does in points and those types of things.
“We’re looking at their ability to process the game and be a part of it at the same time. Not being a spectator but actually being engaged and involved, and they’ve all been able to do that.”
While the Oilers are off to a modest 3-4-2 start after snapping a six-game losing streak with a 7-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks to cap a three-game road trip, Eberle, Paajarvi and Hall have impressed.
“I’ve said it all along that it’s about a comfort level, especially as a young guy coming in, and for our team as well,” said Hall.
“Against Chicago, the defending Stanley Cup champions, we came out and I thought we deserved to win that game. It was good for our confidence and you could kind of see around the room that everyone was more upbeat.”
Eberle, 20, has easily been the best of the threesome with four goals and four assists, including a pair of short-handed goals worthy of nightly reels. The former Regina Pat, drafted 22nd overall by the Oilers in 2008, is garnering some early talk as a Calder Trophy candidate.
“I’ve been getting a lot of opportunities,” Eberle said. “On the power play, penalty killing, a lot of situations. The more I play, the more I get confident and the more I feel at ease.
“Individually, I’m fairly happy with the way the first nine games have gone, but, obviously, team-wise we’d like to win some more games. When stuff is going in, it gives you confidence. Half of goal-scoring is confidence, really.”
Paajarvi, 19, taken 10th overall from Timra IK in Sweden by the Oilers in 2009, has two goals and four assists despite averaging just 14:53 of playing time through nine games. He’s also a team-leading plus-4.
“I consider it OK,” said Paajarvi, asked to rate his performance. “OK, but not more. It was harder than I thought in the beginning. I just skated as hard as I could, but now, I’ve found my lanes and where I’m going to go.
“I’m more comfortable. I have more space than I think. It’s getting better and better each game. Hopefully, that’s going to go on. I just want to make an impact for the team. If I do that, I know I’m going to get points.”
Hall, 18, the focus of so much hype since being taken first overall by the Oilers in the 2010 draft last June, had just one assist in his first seven games, but scored goals in Columbus and Chicago. He’s up to two goals and three assists.
“I thought I was playing well but the chances weren’t going in,” said Hall, who is playing on a line with Eberle and veteran centre Shawn Horcoff.
“You get one goal, like I did in Columbus, and the next game I score on my first shift. That’s the way hockey works. Sometimes, they just go in. I’m trying to keep that up. Playing with Horc and Ebs, they’re two very good players. I’m hoping we can have another good stretch of games.”
When Hall draws in against Vancouver on Tuesday, it’ll mark his 10th game, meaning Edmonton will use the first year of his entry level contract. LikeEberle and Paajarvi, Hall isn’t going anywhere.
“They’re kids, but, boy, are they ever handling this well,” Renney said. “They’re easy to coach. They acknowledge what you want as a coach. They’re personable. I think they interview incredibly well. I think they’re genuine and sincere.
“In their own way, they’re each authentic. It’s a wonderful thing for the Oilers and Oilers fans to see this trio, and more to come, grow up in front of their eyes. It’s pretty exciting stuff.”
Notes: The Oilers placed goalie Jeff Deslauriers on waivers with the hopes of getting him to their AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City should he pass through unclaimed.