If you’ve watched as many Oiler games as me, the past few years, then you’ll understand that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle share a special chemistry. Every so often, two players click like this, meshing so consistently and at such a high level, that they become “special”. At their best, it can seem as if they were separated at birth: Reading almost imperceptible signals from one another, and displaying a phenomenal sense of where the other one is. You may say “that’s just good hockey sense”, or perhaps “they just see the ice incredibly well”. Well…sure, but there’s something far more subtle at work in special cases, that often even the players involved can’t really explain. What is under-estimated is the amount of time spent together off the ice.
Exhibit “A”: Hall and Eberle. Both broke in with the Oilers in 2010, and have been inseparable ever since. They have played together, rode an AHL bus together (strong bonds form there, even though today’s buses are a long way from the “iron lungs” of yesterday), roomed together, grown up together. The results are obvious….inconsistent, perhaps, but nonetheless there for all to see.
Fast-forward to 2014, and we see signs that this phenomena may well be playing out yet again. Nail Yakupov and 1st Round Draft pick Leon Draisaitl will both be counted on heavily this winter, probably more so than is healthy for players of their maturity. But what gives me optimism that this experiment will pan out is the fact that Yakupov and Draisaitl are rooming together, working out together, generally appearing to be attached at the hip, in Edmonton this summer.
They start to be seen as part of the city’s fabric. That matters. Ask Ryan Smyth fans. It will buy each of them valuable capital with the fan base. It sure has with me. They start to feel like “us”. But more importantly, they are being given the chance to form a bond similar to what Hall and Eberle had. But this may pay even greater dividends, because their cases are more extreme.
Hall and Eberle were both prairie kids, and Edmonton not that far from home, nor a particularly different lifestyle than what they’ve been used to for much of their lives. They “just” had to adapt to the NHL. For Yakupov and Draisaitl, it isn’t nearly so easy. In addition to becoming pro’s, these two teenagers have to learn how to live, in a new country, a new city, even over-come any lingering language barriers. This is way tougher.
A year or two in Prince Albert or Sarnia will have gotten them started, but don’t kid yourselves: Those cities were just stepping-stones for these two. Edmonton has a chance to be their “home”. You can begin to see how, through the process of these two sets of gifted players being “in one another’s pockets”, the Oilers could end up with not just one but two “real” NHL scoring lines for a generation to enjoy.