|Left to Right: Edmonton Oilers Shawn Horcoff, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark and Taylor Fedun celebrate the second goal of the night scored by Eberle against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, September 25, 2011. (STUART DRYDEN/QMI AGENCY)
CALGARY - Last year Jordan Eberle won the Oilers scoring race by default.
This year, if the regular season is anything like the pre-season, he might win it by a mile.
The 21-year-old sophomore is Edmonton’s hottest hand of the pre-season, one of the leading goal scorers in the NHL, after scoring Sunday for the third time in three games.
He was every bit the first-line winger in Calgary, burying a shot under the crossbar that Miikka Kiprusoff could only wave at and setting up Linus Omark for a goal-mouth gimme to lead Edmonton to a 3-0 victory at the Saddledome.
“The puck and Jordan Eberle are user friendly, there’s no doubt about it,” said head coach Tom Renney, who also got a goal from Shawn Horcoff and two assists from Tyler Fedun. “He likes the responsibility of the puck, he likes the responsibility of the moment. He’s a player that, as we hoped — as promised our fans in Edmonton — would grow up in front of your eyes.”
It should come as absolutely no surprise that’s he’s already padding his totals — Eberle produces everywhere he goes, from 106 points his last season of junior to a point-per-game clip during a couple of brief AHL fly-bys (23 points in 20 games) to Team Canada (eight points in eight games at the World Championships and 36 in 23 at the World Juniors).
All he does is create offence.
“I think it’s instinct,” said Renney. “Those are things you hope to teach over time, but there’s a certain mental capacity a player has to have in order to deal with the moment. Jordan just has that knack.
“Our scouts have done an excellent job of not just drafting people with talent and skill, but they look at that great intangible, hockey sense.”
Eberle, who’s lighter but stronger than last year, spent a lot of his off-season honing what was already a pretty good shot. But he noticed that “pretty good” wasn’t good enough in the NHL.
“I worked a lot on my shot,” he said, before rushing off to meet some family before the Oilers flew back to Edmonton. “The one big thing I noticed last year was you have to get your shot away a lot quicker — these goalies are so good up here that you have to be a little more accurate. That was one big thing.”
After 43 points in 69 games, enough to win the Oilers scoring race (after Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall and Dustin Penner were no longer in the picture) he’s ready to pick up where he left off.
“Anytime you’re scoring you get confidence,” he said. “And you can take that into the reagular season.”
Devan Dubnyk, who allowed just one goal in each of his two previous pre-season starts (each 30 minutes), was even better in this one. He posted 30 saves in the shutout and with Khabibulin allowing just one goal in a stellar effort Saturday, has Oilers fans breathing a little easier about their goaltending (as easily as they can when the opponents are about one-third of Calgary’s regular-season roster).
“It was awesome,” said Dubnyk. “They had a little better lineup out there and it was my first opportunity to play a full game, too. It was important to me (to play well).”
Having a sewn-up spot on the team is a refreshing change after last year, when Edmonton wrestled with a three-goalie rotation out of the gate with Khabibulin and Jeff Deslauriers.
“It’s been a different pre-season for me, not worrying about getting a spot on the team,” said Dubnyk. “I’ve been able to really concentrate on my game. It’s a different feeling, but it’s certainly nice.”
“Dubie was great,” said Renney. “He was the difference maker when we needed him most. He made it very clear that he was here to win a hockey game.”