The last thing the Edmonton needed to kick off the 2015-16 campaign was to lose one of their stars, but it appears the injury bug has bitten Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle.
During Tuesday evening’s game between Edmonton and Arizona, Eberle picked up a puck below the Coyotes’ goal line before being shoved from the side. The force of the push sent Eberle shoulder first into the boards and almost immediately it was apparent he was in significant pain.
Eberle was able to get himself to the bench, but he left the game shortly thereafter and didn’t return. Making matters worse, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug took to Twitter post-game to report Eberle was in a sling and Oilers Nation’s Jason Gregor was told Eberle’s prognosis was, “not good.”
The Oilers have yet to announce just how long Eberle will be sidelined, but should the injury hold him out for upwards of two to three weeks, Edmonton is going to need to find more than a band-aid for their top six.
With Eberle out of the lineup, the Oilers will have to rely on Nail Yakupov, Teddy Purcell or possibly Iiro Pakarinen, who got 17 games in the NHL with the Oilers in 2014-15. While Yakupov might be the most offensively gifted of the bunch, none have the outright 60-point ability of Eberle, which means there will be a serious downgrade in offensive punch on the top line.
Yakupov’s career-best output is 33 points and Purcell’s best year came four seasons ago in Tampa Bay when he notched 24 goals and 65 points, a total he hasn’t come close to replicating since. Pakarinen has produced well in the AHL, but he could use more seasoning before heading to the NHL full-time. There is one wild-card, though: rookie Anton Slepyshev.
The 21-year-old doesn’t have any regular season NHL games under his belt, but he’s coming off of two full seasons of KHL action with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. In 2014-15, he netted 15 goals and 25 points in 58 contests and in pre-season action with the Oilers he has managed two goals and four points in five outings. Sure, those are pre-season totals, but Slepyshev could be a sneaky fill-in for Eberle.
But the loss of Eberle will also be felt elsewhere in the lineup. Since 2012-13, Eberle has averaged the third highest time on ice on a middling Oilers power play. Without him, the Oilers will have to throw Connor McDavid, Anton Lander or even Benoit Pouliot onto the top unit and hope for the best.
Whoever fills Eberle’s role on the power play will have to take over as the primary playmaker, too. Over the past three seasons, Eberle has been the Oilers No. 1 scorer with the extra attacker and has been the main set-up man for 21 power play goals for Edmonton. Taking him off a unit that finished with a 17.7 percent efficiency last season could make the unit even more futile.
Regardless of who the Oilers put in Eberle’s place, though, they’re going to need him back sooner rather than later if they want to really make a push for the post-season in McDavid’s first season. It appeared as though the stars had aligned for Edmonton when they landed McDavid, but losing Eberle could be the first major hurdle in what looked like a promising season for the Oilers.