SUN Hockey Pool

Eberle making case to stay

DEREK VAN DIEST

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

His case is growing stronger by the game.

In reality, the Edmonton Oilers have no room for Jordan Eberle on this year's roster. Not with the logjam of forwards under contract and the number of players they're going to pay NHL dollars to play in the American Hockey League.

But with another outstanding performance on Sunday in Saskatoon, in what was an otherwise lacklustre effort by the rest of the club, the Oilers' most promising prospect is looking too good to cut.

"There's no question his performances have been good," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. "We've always thought this would be a hard decision because he is an intelligent player.

"But we don't want to put any of our young guys in a position where you get too enthusiastic during these games, where there is not a lot of pretty play and then when the puck drops on the real season, you get hesitant for whatever reason."

Playing on a line with Ryan Potulny and J.F. Jacques, Eberle, 19, was Edmonton's most dangerous forward on the 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders in Saskatoon.

He has an exceptional ability to read a play offensively and the dynamic skill to exploit the opportunity. It's only a matter of time before he collects his first NHL goal.

Yet, the Oilers are tying to keep things in perspective.

They have some time to make a decision on Eberle, having up to nine regular-season games to evaluate him before the first year of his NHL entry-level contract kicks in.

The dilemma for the club comes if they decide to send him back to the Regina Pats for another year.

Eberle cannot be recalled until his junior season ends. And given he would be one of the hottest commodities in the WHL, there's no guarantee the Pats wouldn't him move him to a Memorial Cup contender for future prospects if they're not in the running for the national championship.

"They've had some young people here before that have had some ups and downs as young people often do," Quinn said. "But it's not going to be an easy call here because he has competed really well."

The last time the Oilers faced this dilemma was with Sam Gagner prior to the 2007-08 season. He impressed enough to stick with the club and had a strong rookie season before going through the expected sophomore slump last year.

Eberle is facing an entirely different situation.

The Oilers are an older team this year with a number of veterans vying for spots on the top four lines. Mike Comrie's signing only added to the bottleneck.

To keep Eberle on the 23-man roster, the Oilers will have to demote a veteran player, opening up the risk of losing that player on waivers.

Judging by Eberle's play so far, the Oilers might be willing to take that risk.

ICE CHIPS: The Oilers cut eight players yesterday, sending Ryan O'Marra, Alex Plante, Jake Taylor and Bryan Young to Springfield, while leaving Milan Kytnar in Saskatoon. Dean Arsene, Ryan Potulny and Chris Minard have also been sent to the minors, but have to clear waivers first.

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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