During his tenure as general manager, Garth Snow focused on bringing stability to the Islanders with an aim of developing a stable nucleus of players. With that goal in mind last summer, the club opted to retain the services of close to the entire roster with the exceptions of Travis Hamonic to Calgary and Ryan Strome to Edmonton. In exchange for Strome, the Isles acquired Jordan Eberle, whose notched five goals in 15 games in his first season in Brooklyn, while finding a role on the second line.
“It took a few games for me to adjust to coming over to the Islanders,” Eberle said. “But the biggest thing for me was traveling, but as things have gone on, I have started to play a lot better, and I want to continue that consistency, so at this point, I feel like I have adjusted to things well.”
A 22nd overall pick of the Oilers in 2008, Eberle arrived in Edmonton in the midst of a rebuilding project that later included the likes of homegrown products such as, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The long-term strategy for the Oilers was stockpiling prospects in the hopes of translating promise into perennial contention.
Unfortunately for Eberle and Edmonton, their only taste of the playoff spotlight came during a second-round exit against the Anaheim Ducks during the 2016-2017 season. Despite the lack of overall team success, Eberle collected five 20 goal seasons, while averaging 54 points in seven years. As the Oilers played their first game in Brooklyn on Tuesday since the publicized offseason trade, Eberle reflected on his tenure in Edmonton and the prospect of facing his former team.
“Edmonton taught me a lot. It was a place that gave me a start,” Eberle said. “They gave me the confidence to build my game, and as my career went on, they were great to me. It’s weird seeing them on the other side of the ice now, but that’s how it works. It’s just part of the game.”
Eberle’s presence in Brooklyn provided another dynamic to an offense that began realizing its potential. Entering Tuesday’s play, the Islanders averaged 3.8 goals per game, good for a second-place tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Surrounded by a plethora of scorers, Eberle worked primarily as a facilitator with the puck, before scoring three goals in his last two games. His emerging chemistry with rookie Mathew Barzal helped solidify his line and made them a challenging unit in the attacking zone.
“His speed and skill help him create space for himself,” Eberle said of Barzal. “It’s that simple. He is fun to play with, and he and I are gaining some chemistry and knowing where each other are. He’s an easy player to play with because he creates a lot of space for you. He’s found me open quite a few times and it’s been a good start with him, and we have to keep rolling with it.”
Unlike most of their recent games, the Islanders found themselves in a tightly contested match against Edmonton, decided on a Connor McDavid goal 38 seconds into overtime in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat. The Isles amassed 37 shots on goal, but the only goal came from Eberle in the second period, beating Talbot below the crossbar on a feed from Barzal. While Eberle was able to keep the Isles’ home point streak intact, the lingering feeling remained of a missed opportunity against his former club.
“The last couple of games, we were pretty fortunate with the bounces we gotten, but this was the opposite story. We played well enough to win, but we couldn’t find the back of the net,” Eberle said. We have to rebound from this game. This was a tough one, especially for me. We really wanted to beat these guys, but this is just how it works.”
The offseason trade of Strome for Eberle benefits an Islanders’ club seeking continuity on each forward pairing along with adding a proven veteran in the prime of his career. Eberle’s intangibles and deft scoring touch also fills a void and prevents the team from becoming too reliant on their top line as in year’s past. As Eberle eases into his new surroundings, the results will follow with increasing poise.