Jordan Eberle always has been the little guy who compiles big stats.
When he was 9 years old, Eberle scored 216 goals in Hockey Regina's Tier 1 novice league. He was so proficient that a Boston youth team recruited the diminutive Canadian kid to play two tournaments every summer.
Eberle continued to compile off-the-chart stats. When he was 15, he led the Calgary Buffaloes to the Triple-A bantam Canadian national finals.
But the following year, eligible for the prestigious major junior draft, Eberle wasn't selected until the seventh round by the hometown Regina Pats.
“Back then, people selected you on how big you are,” Eberle said. “(Barons teammate) Colten Teubert was the first overall pick that year. He was 6-foot-4. I was 5-foot-3. Everyone knew I could score and was a skilled player. But they didn't think I could do it at the next level.”
Eberle, a 22-year-old right winger who is playing with the Oklahoma City Barons during the NHL lockout, took the Western Hockey League by storm.
Over the next four seasons Eberle led Regina in scoring. He compiled 310 points, including 155 goals.
Last week, the Pats retired Eberle's No. 7 jersey.
“Seeing your name raised to the rafters was pretty special,” said Eberle, who is second in the AHL in scoring. “It's such an honor. That's the team I grew up watching as a kid, the team I wanted to play for.”
It was a memorable night for the small kid with big skills who, four years after being overlooked in the WHL draft, was selected in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers.
“There always were doubts in scouts' minds whether I could play because of my size, but I just used that as motivation,” said Eberle, now 5-11 and 184 pounds. “Plus, the game changed. I think I've paved the way for a lot of guys.”
The game changed in 2004-05 when the NHL, in an attempt to increase scoring, started enforcing penalties to prevent “clutching and grabbing.” Tighter rules benefitted smaller players like Eberle.
“It freed them up. They had more room,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “They didn't have to worry about fighting through bodies. It helped smaller players play at a high level.”
Highly skilled at age 3
Eberle's father, Darren, coached Jordan in youth leagues. He said his son's talent was apparent as early as age 3. As Jordan grew older his skills stood out.
“He did things that kind of left your mouth open,” Darren said. “He could really skate. And his puck handling, it was like he had a string on it. He could literally dangle (the puck) inside out. He was always the top player in his age group.”
It was the year Jordan scored 216 goals that he showcased his skills in a summer event in Regina. The Vancouver Vipers' coach attended the tournament. He invited Eberle to play with them in the Edmonton Brick Tournament, which featured some of the top teams in North America.
In the finals, Eberle had four points, including the game-winning overtime goal against a Toronto team led by Steven Stamkos. Kevin Lowe, now the Oilers' president of hockey operations, presented Eberle with the MVP trophy.