A Closer Look At What Eberle Brings to Isles

By: Chris Boyle

Every move the Islanders make seem to be with an eye on July 1, 2018 and John Tavares’ impending free agency.

Tavares is a do-everything center, but even that ability has seen the Isles’ captain reach the second round of the playoffs just once in the first eight seasons of his career. He requires help to ease the load, and the Islanders’ acquisition of Jordan Eberle should help him shoulder the offensive burden.

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One of the main reasons Eberle was jettisoned by the Oilers was his cap number. With major paydays coming to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and the overpay for Milan Lucic, Eberle was expendable.

The Islanders’ trade for the 27-year-old improves their offense immediately. With Eberle slumping to his worst offensive performance since his rookie season, the Islanders were able to acquire a proven scorer still in his prime for a modest price.

There is no question that Eberle is an above average offensive performer. A look at his shot metrics easily confirms this.

Over the last three seasons, Eberle continually managed to get high-quality shots in the high-danger area with a lot of pre-shot movement (81% clear sight). While he isn’t the type of player who will contribute through his board work, if paired with Tavares and Anders Lee, this weakness can be mitigated.

If there is concern about his declining point totals, a lot of that can be found in his finishing ability regressing last season, not on his shot production.

If we examine the types of shots he was producing over the last three seasons, there is very little variance. He continually produces high-quality shots and, outside of a slight regression in high-danger opportunities, his offensive opportunities are almost a mirror image of the two seasons where he was producing at a 27-goal pace.

Where the regression gods chased him down was in his ability to finish his chances.

If we look at his goal totals vs. his expected goal totals, we see him riding percentages, especially during his pairing with McDavid last season.

This shows up in his shooting data. Eberle not only stopped producing well above replacement level, he struggled to bury high-end opportunities. Where Eberle had enjoyed 40% shooting success on slot-line passes, that number fell to 20% last season. Considering the league average conversion rate is 35%, it is an outlier number that cost him four goals.

When we start to move through each category, we see more and more of these erratic percentages for a player who routinely finished at above-average rates. Eberle may not have the phenomenal release of a Phil Kessel, but he has one of the greatest sets of hands that individually allows him to change shooting angles in an instant. He turns low-quality opportunities into high-quality ones through his wrist shot and stick work alone. This type of regression during the prime of his career seems more like an outlier than a drop in skill.

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Eberle’s totals have been influenced by pairing with high-end offensive players like Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid. Another awaits him in Brooklyn.

Tavares has outstanding offensive skills that translate to improving his teammates, and Eberle’s ability to find rebounds and hide in open spaces should give the Islanders a dynamic duo. If the Isles pair them with Lee, a player who creates his own high-end tip and rebound opportunities through relentless net-front presence, then they will have one of the best first lines in the NHL.

This was a low-risk acquisition and should result in improved offensive results. Will it be enough to convince Tavares to stay? That remains to be seen.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.