If you were to ask Ben Eager I’m sure he would tell you that last season in the NHL was one to forget for the 29-year old. Playing in just 14 games for the Oilers, scoring one goal and adding one assist while compiling just 25 minutes in penalties is not the pace that Eager would have envisioned. Yet, when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, he still has value for the upcoming season.
It would be easy to say last year was a complete write-off for Eager but that wasn’t entirely the case. His time with the big club was obviously disappointing but when he went unclaimed on the waiver wire and was assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons, Eager made the most of his time in the minors.
Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal recently did an article on Eager and highlighted how he earned himself a second chance with the Oilers following his strong play with the Barons. In 9 playoff games the former first round pick registered 5 points and a whopping 64 PIMs. Not exactly first line material but that’s not Eager’s game and he knows it.
He came to camp leaner and hopefully meaner, shedding 15 pounds in the offseason. Eager knows first hand that the Oilers need some grit and sandpaper on their third and fourth lines and he told Ireland exactly that.
“I know we need some size in our lineup, and I believe I can provide that.”
Here is where his value lies. Standing at 6’2″ and a lighter frame of 225 lbs (last year he was listed at 240 lbs), Eager can play that role of the fourth line role player who can bang and crash to help turn the tempo of the game around.
Couple him with Mike Brown and suddenly the fourth line has not only grit but some much needed toughness. I’m not saying the Oilers need two tough guys (if you classify both Brown and Eager as that) but they both know their role and can execute it perfectly when healthy and fit.
Given Dallas Eakins new fitness regime, it’s safe to say that Eager knew he better shed the extra pounds prior to camp or a trip to the minors wouldn’t even be in the cards for him. A lighter and faster frame should allow Eager to compete for puck battles and not to mention keep up to the speed of the everyday game.
Five times in his eight year career he’s surpassed the 100 penalty minute plateau and back in 2006-07, then a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Eager racked an incredible 233 minutes of penalty time. Not saying the Oilers need that out of the Ottawa, Ontario native, but a steady hand that can help sheriff the ice when needed will go a long way in avoiding this team being run out of the rink.
If the Oilers are serious about contending for a playoff spot this season then having a combination of Brown and Eager will help distinguish their identity as a tough team to play against. We all know they have the skill and the obvious holes are in the bottom six forwards. Size is what this team is lacking up front so if Ben Eager can prove he’s worth one more shot, then maybe his role on this hockey club would be invaluable.