Oilers' draft pick dominant scorer in WHL


The circle closes neatly for Jordan Eberle this month in his hometown.


The circle closes neatly for Jordan Eberle this month in his hometown.

The Regina kid, who is shooting the lights out for the Western Hockey League Pats this year, will be called on to do the same for Canada, with the fans of an entire city, province and country watching the World Junior Hockey Championship intently.

The late Lorne Davis, the legendary Regina-based scout who bird-dogged Eberle early and no doubt influenced the Edmonton Oilers' decision to draft him, will be there in spirit, because the man hated to miss a good junior game.

Lorne's kids -- Darrell the sportswriter who played road hockey with Eberle for years, Brad the Oiler scout, and Leanne, who taught Eberle how to power skate -- may all be there in support of their close family friend.

Sure, Eberle hasn't made the team yet, since final cuts won't occur until the end of this week's selection camp, but the kid starred for Canada at last year's tournament -- you may remember his tying goal with 5.4 seconds left in a semifinal game against Russia and the shootout winner to boot -- and he's likely the best player in the WHL this year, so he's a lock.

If he happens to sound confident of his role on the team, that's hardly a sin.

"Every kid dreams of playing in junior and on the world junior team. This is obviously a unique situation because it's in Regina," Eberle said.

"There will be some pressure because of that. Last year I didn't expect to jump in like I did. I'm hopefully going to come back as a leader and there is added pressure with that. And this year would be six gold in a row and it's never been done.

"But you know what, coming back as a leader I'm going to be a lot more confident and know what to expect. Hopefully I'll get a power-play role. To be honest, I know they're going to need me to score in order for us to win hockey games."

And that makes it no different than his role with the Pats, where he and linemate Jordan Weal lead the offence for the struggling Eastern Conference team. Eberle is ranked second in the WHL with 60 points, despite having played only 28 games, five fewer than Calgary's Brandon Kozun, who leads the loop with 63 points.

The games-played discrepancy comes from the fact Eberle was a late cut from the Oilers' training camp. He deserved to be there as long as he was, but he also needed more time in junior, to work on defence and to get stronger, and he wrapped his head around that fact quickly enough.

"It's obviously tough getting sent back from the NHL," he said.

"That was my goal, to make that team. Obviously they thought I wasn't ready. A lot of guys come back and think it's going to be a cakewalk. My focus was on the fact a lot of players in this league are good and are going to play in the NHL. It's a great league. I still have to put the effort in. I've still got to be a hard-working player out there."

The Oilers had no complaints on that front, nor does Eberle's coach in Regina, Curtis Hunt.

"I think he's really worked at his play without the puck. He's one of our key penalty killers, including five on three. You have to block shots at the top and he does. He wants to be in those situations. He's been very accountable in those situations," said Hunt.

It's a matter of tending to what needs improvement, and Eberle at 19 knows what will make the difference for him the next time he goes to Oilers camp.

"For me, I've obviously been gifted enough to put the puck in the net. I've been trying to pick up my defensive play and I think it's gotten better."

The Oilers have noticed and have been impressed.

"I think they're happy with how I came back and handled myself as far as not slowing down. I want to try and impress them as much as I can. They drafted me for my offensive talent."

They drafted him 22nd overall in 2008, six months after Lorne Davis lost a lengthy battle with liver cancer.

"We like to think Jordan was my dad's last draft choice," said Darrell. "My brother Brad scouts for the Oilers, as you know. He would have gone to bat for him, don't you think? He would have said, 'Listen, Lorne really wanted this guy.' "

Eberle came to the family's attention quite a few years earlier as he starred in nightly games on Janzen Crescent in Regina, where he lived four doors down from Darrell Davis.

"Dad didn't scout the midget ranks. He didn't start scouting him until Jordan's first year with the Pats. But he knew about him because I was telling him about street hockey. It was me and Jordan against 12 kids in the neighbourhood and we usually won. I didn't get a lot of goals but I did get a lot of assists."

Eberle kept on scoring through minor hockey and into junior. In 225 games over four seasons with the Pats, he has 134 goals. His pace this year is hotter than ever, with 29 goals in just 28 games. The Oilers are forever in search of pure goal scorers and this kid may well be the answer one day. But first he has to take care of business at home, starting with the world junior, finishing with the Pats. He came back from last year's tournament in Ottawa on an emotional high. Little wonder, since he was wearing a gold medal and was third in tourney scoring with six goals and 13 points.

"It was really hard. You're on such a high after winning the world junior. You get back and you're coming back to a struggling team. It really was a disappointing season. We didn't even make the playoffs and there is definitely some bitterness left over.

"I want to do well in the playoffs and win the Memorial Cup. You look at teams that won the Memorial Cup. There are more than a few guys on those teams who move on to bigger and better things."