LEDUC, Alta. — Jordan Eberle, the Edmonton Oilers’ top scorer last season, says the addition of Connor McDavid should give his line the most coveted gift in the NHL — room to move.
“With Connor here we really have that one-two punch. Now it’s going to be tough for teams to match up their checking line … their tough defence against one line,” Eberle said Saturday.
“Whoever they give (the top checking line) to one night, the other line is going to have it a little bit easier.
“That (one-two line punch) makes teams dangerous.
“I look at the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ve got Jonathan Toews’ line, and it frees up (Patrick) Kane.”
Eberle, with centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and left winger Benoit Pouliot were extremely effective down the stretch last season.
Eberle, 25, finished the year with 24 goals and 63 points in 81 games.
The Oilers new head coach, Todd McLellan, is keeping that line together in training camp.
McLellan is matching the rookie McDavid with Taylor Hall and veteran Teddy Purcell to fill out the top six.
Hall and McDavid both have blazing speed and elite level scoring and playmaking skills.
Eberle said they are two lines with different skill sets.
“(Nugent-Hopkins) and I play similar games,” he said.
“If you think of Connor and (Hall), that’s about as fast as you can get in the NHL. They’re going to beat you with their speed, while Nuge and I, we beat you with our give-and-go and our (on ice) intelligence.
“Then you throw a guy like (Pouliot) on there, who is maybe one of the best forecheckers in the league, getting the puck back.
“With his speed he can push guys back and give Nuge and I time.”
The two lines faced off in camp Saturday in the team’s first scrimmage of camp. The game ended in a 3-3 tie.
Nugent-Hopkins did not play, after taking a puck in the face earlier in practice.
Goaltender Cam Talbot, standing in the crease, cleared the puck following a drill, but instead hit Nugent-Hopkins in the face in the high slot.
McLellan later described the damage as minor.
“No laceration, but a nice welt,” he said.
“We’ll see how he is in the morning, but we don’t anticipate any issues.”
The third line in camp is Anton Lander and Leon Draisaitl alternating between wing and centre alongside right winger Nail Yakupov.
McLellan is one of many off-season changes made by the Oilers as they try to break a string of nine consecutive non-playoff campaigns.
Eberle, entering his sixth year with the Oilers, and Hall played for McLellan on Team Canada this spring when it won gold in the Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championships.
Eberle admitted the constant losing in Edmonton has taken its toll.
“It’s been tough, to be honest. Five years of this. It grows on you. You start to think of yourself as a bit of a loser,” he said with a chuckle.
“For me and Hallsy going to the Worlds this summer, and winning and having that winning feeling back … I was really, really proud of myself and really proud of him and proud of our team.
“It makes you feel good about yourself again. That was huge for us. In a crazy way you realize you’re not a loser anymore.”
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press