Oilers still looking for more from Jordan Eberle

Jordan Eberle talks with the media about how a bad game motivates him and being his own worst critic.

EDMONTON — “Not enough.”

Generally, two-word answers from head coaches after a Game 3 loss are going to sting. But when the question to Todd McLellan is, “What do you think about what Jordan Eberle has given you in this series so far?” well, those two words paint a picture, don’t they?

“Not enough,” spat McLellan.

“When the coach says something like that,” Eberle said after Tuesday’s practice, “you want to perform.”

How things have turned, considering Eberle was the poster boy for the old Oilers.

The right-winger arrived from the world junior hockey championship, where Eberle scored 14 goals in 12 games over two appearances, so many of the clutch variety. “You want magic? You call Jordan Eberle!” colour man Pierre McGuire emoted after Eberle had tied the 2010 gold medal game with 1:35 to play. “This guy makes a difference every single time he plays a hockey game!”

But Eberle entered that Factory of Sadness that was the early-2000s Edmonton Oilers, and soon after became the poster boy for what that team was: a pack of small, fly-the-zone offensive players who scored some points, but got scored against a lot more often.

Eberle became an established 25-goal man, but like Taylor Hall, a young Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz et al, he became another spoke in the square wheel that was Edmonton’s rebuild. So this season, with Hall moved in a metaphorical deal that traded offence for defence, Eberle improved his defensive game markedly.

The problem? His production fell off because of it.

Today he is a $6 million, defensively (more) responsible second-line winger with just two assists in nine playoff games. An entire hockey city has seized on his coach’s words, tapping their collective foot in wait of McGuire’s promise of big goals coming in big games.

“Absolutely,” agreed Eberle. “I’m an offensive guy, and my own worst critic. You can be great defensively, do good board work and all that. But I’m a goal scorer. I’ve got to put the puck in the net.

“I haven’t scored a goal yet,” he said. “It’s no secret.”

We’ll give Eberle credit for two things: One, hunkering down this season and cleaning up his all-around game. Despite a couple of faux pas in Game 3, he can handle a tough rim and get the puck out of the zone consistently now, and his choices with the puck almost never result in a collective groan and an odd-man rush in the wrong direction, like the old days in Edmonton.

Also, there are some players who wouldn’t stand for the kind of interview we did Tuesday, where the angle was right there on the table and not at all favourable for the player.

“(But) it’s not just evolving those skills now, six years into the league,” said his expectant coach McLellan. “Those checking skills, the board work, the responsibility have improved, and we need them to stay in his game. But there’s the other side of the puck.

“We don’t want him to play a big-risk, low-reward game. We want a little bit of risk and high-reward game.”

It’s not enough not to hurt the team anymore. Eberle has to start helping it.

Don’t think it goes unnoticed that the only right-hand shot on the first power play unit — charged with burying 10-footers with the man advantage — is fourth-liner Mark Letestu, not $6 million man Jordan Eberle.

“I want to score, put the puck in the net,” he said. “The thing that sucks is, the last two games I haven’t had too many chances, and that’s when you start to worry.”


On Edmonton’s second line with the hulking Milan Lucic and the evolving centre Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle was matched against Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton’s line in Round 1, and now against the Ryan Getzlaf unit. Lucic has the only playoff goal among the three.

“There comes a time when you’re just … playing straight defence,” Eberle said. “You have to find that balance, and it’s what Nuge has battled, and I have battled. Especially when you get labeled as that shutdown line.”

There is a salary crunch coming in Edmonton, with Leon Draisaitl getting a new deal this summer and Connor McDavid up in a year. It’s widely accepted that one of the two $6 million dollar survivors — Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins, both the longest-serving Oilers — will be dealt.

RNH is establishing himself as a second-line centre you can win with.

Eberle is running out of time to stake that claim — especially with right-winger Jesse Puljujarvi waiting in the wings.

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