Eberle gives Oilers hope for the future

Jamie Bell

1/6/2010 7:56:15 PM

With the team sitting dead last in the Western Conference and their marquee off-season signing likely to miss the remainder of the season, there hasn't been many reasons to cheer in Edmonton this year.

However over the holiday season, Oilers fans were given a reason for optimism as 2008 first round draft pick Jordan Eberle established himself as a shining beacon of hope for the Oilers' future after starring once again for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatoon.

If the 19-year old established his reputation as being a clutch performer during last year's tournament in Ottawa by sending the semi final game against the Russians to overtime by scoring with only five seconds remaining, then he firmly stamped his name in the annals of Canadian hockey history with his performance on Monday.

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation and Canada down by a pair to the United States, Eberle put the team on his back, scoring twice to force extra-time and prolonging Canada's gold rush, at least temporarily.

Although the United States would win the game in overtime, Eberle's performance made a huge impression, not only on the IIHF who chose him as tournament MVP, but on many of his future teammates.

"He's mister clutch, obviously," said Oilers forward Sam Gagner, who helped Canada capture gold in 2007 in Leksand, Sweden. "He scored some huge goals in that tournament and from a spectator view it's awesome to see. You get chills when you watch some of the goals he scores and how big they were."

Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff sees something special in the Regina native.

"The puck just follows him; you can't explain it," said Horcoff.  "I think as a player, there are certain guys like that in the league that it just seems to come to them and he's a good finisher. I don't really think its luck, he finds the open ice and knows where the pucks going to go. Hopefully he can translate that to the pro game."

Eberle impressed the Oilers' brass enough at training camp that he was among the final cuts; his performance in Saskatoon likely went a long way to establishing a claim to a roster spot next season.

"His spectacular goal scoring in clutch situations is tremendous as far as Canadian teams are concerned and he's been a top scorer for his junior team on a pretty good team," said an impressed Pat Quinn, who coached Canada to gold in Ottawa last year where he got a first hand look at what Eberle was capable of.

In Ottawa, Eberle was third in team scoring behind just Cody Hodgson and John Tavares, scoring six goals and picking up seven assists as Canada won their record fifth straight gold.  This time around, he found the back of the net eight times, surpassing Tavares for first on the all-time list for goal scoring by Canadians in the tournament.

He finished second in scoring in this tournament behind Derek Stepan of the United States, but his play left a definite impression on the tournament's leading scorer.

"I've never seen a guy as clutch as he is," Stepan said of Eberle following Monday's game. "He's a special player and he's got a knack for the net.

"He's got a good set of hands and he'll play in the NHL for a lot of years as well."

The Oilers are certainly hoping so since their recent draft history has been spotty at best.  Of all the players that Edmonton has drafted since the lockout, only Gagner and Andrew Cogliano take a regular shift with the team.  However, with both Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, who starred for Sweden in the tournament, in their system, the future looks much brighter than the present.