After being drafted by the Oilers with the twenty second pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Jordan Eberle had done nothing but buildup the expectations of Oiler fans. Expectations are the name of the game for a player picked in the first round. But if that player also represents Canada at the 2009 and 2010 World Junior Championships, comes away as Canada's all-time leading scorer in the tournament, and scores some massively important goals along the way, then expectations tend to increase. If that player also is named the WHL Player of the Year in his last year of junior those already lofty expectations will increase even more.
Of course Eberle did all of those things between the time the Oilers called his name and when he stepped onto the ice for his first NHL game on October 7, 2010 and as a result expectations were high for the rookie. We'd all looked at the his numbers in junior, we'd watched the games at the World Juniors and when he came to town with the Regina Pats, and we saw great things in his future. And in his first game Eberle decided to give the fans a glimpse of that future by scoring a shorthanded highlight reel goal that will be tough for him to ever top. It wasn't the kind of goal I expected from a rookie in his first NHL game.
Right from the first game of season Eberle exceeded expectations.
Before the start of the season players like Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner, or even fellow rookie Taylor Hall would have been the popular pick to lead the Oilers in scoring this season. But when the dust settled on the Oilers season, it was Eberle's 43 points - 18 goals to go along with 25 assists - that lead the team. Three of those popular picks would all finish one point back of Eberle for the team lead, each knocked out for the season after reaching the death number of 42 points. Eberle took a Raffi Torres elbow to the head after reaching 42 points but you just can't keep him down. He was back that night and two games later scored that elusive point number 43.
Prior to the season I thought Eberle would be given plenty of chances to succeed but I didn't think anything north of 40 points would be possible for him in his rookie year. He beat my projection and if not for 13 games spent on the shelf with an ankle injury, might have reached the 50 point barrier and demolished my projection for him. Looking simply at points per game Eberle's average of 0.62 ties him for second with Gagner, just behind Hall, among Oiler rookies since the start of the 2000 season.
Yesterday Derek took a look at Eberle's scoring chances and the result were again a little unexpected. He beat the Oilers average in every segment of the season and came away with a scoring chance percentage of 50.6% for the season. As a rookie those are fantastic numbers. And Eberle wasn't simply picking up chances against inferior opponents. Playing with Shawn Horcoff and Hall for extended stretches he often saw time against the other teams top lines. Coming away on the plus side of the ledger in that situation is a remarkable accomplishment.
We all expect rookie to make mistakes. They're learning to play in a league that is both bigger and faster than any league they've played against before and as a result mistakes will happen from time to time. One way to try and measure mistakes is to look at giveaways. At the Cult of Hockey Bruce looked at differential between individual giveaways and takeaways and Eberle comes away with a differential of +15, good for tops on the Oilers. Leading a team in takeaway/giveaway differential as a rookie is another remarkable accomplishment.
Looking forward the future looks to be very bright for Eberle. The projection for him was a top line winger. After his rookie season I see no evdence that makes me think that he can't achieve that. I'd actually say he more likely to reach that level now than I would have at the start of the season. A lot of that has to do with how he plays the game.
Coming into the season one of the biggest knocks on him was his size and how he'd hold up against bigger and stronger opposition in the NHL over the wear and tear of 82 games. Having watched him for a year I would say that this is less of a concern now because he doesn't get hit much. Not that he shies away from the corners or contact but he just seems to be one of those players that is elusive and generally hard to hit. In other words he's the anti-Hemsky who probably should try and get hit a little less. For a smaller player this is probably a good thing as it should help keep him on the ice and not nursing injuries in the press box.
Prediction: Next season I think he'll improve slightly on the scoring rate from his rookie year. I'm confident that he'll record his first of many 20 goal seasons and will finish his sophomore season with 55 points. I also won't be the least bit surprised if he exceed my expectations yet again.