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Jordan Eberle at 1,000: A retrospective and a celebration

Jordan Eberle fistbumps teammates along the bench after scoring a goal
Player photography provided by @Jennthulhu_Photos on Instagram

1,000 games played. It’s tough to truly put into words exactly what that milestone means to the NHL players that reach it, but I’m going to try my best to contextualize it. Consider: the NHL season is 82 games long. Even if a player were to play every single game of every season, not even 10 seasons’ worth of games would get you to 1,000. Heck, not even 12 seasons’ worth of games does—that only gets you to 984. Only one player in NHL history has ever played over 1,000 games consecutively: Phil Kessel with 1,064. Most players go through injuries along their 1,000 game journey. They have games where they need to take off because a child was born or a loved one passed. They become healthy scratches for some reason or another. Those 1,000 games stretch out much further than a simple 12 seasons and change.

Now, consider how many players never get the chance to reach 1,000 games. I don’t have numbers on hand to cite, but just think of how many players get drafted in the hopes of reaching their NHL dreams, but they end up only getting a couple cracks at it before becoming AHL lifers. Think of players who have had their careers cut short for various reasons. Think of the players who maybe don’t get started in the NHL until a bit later in life, so they just don’t have the time to put in a good 12+ seasons’ worth of hockey before their bodies start wearing down enough to necessitate retirement.

If Wikipedia is 100% accurate (and I’m not enough of a hockey historian to verify this for myself), Jordan Eberle is about to become the 392nd player to reach 1,000 games in the NHL. That seems like a lot of people when you think about that number alone, but there are around 736 active roster players in the NHL each night. There are more people currently playing in the league than there have been people to hit 1,000 games played since its inaugural 1917-1918 season. It is rare company that Eberle is about to join.

The game tonight is just about getting to 1,000 games for Eberle. Thursday night will be the official ceremony commemorating the achievement. It won’t be the Kraken’s first shot at this, as they celebrated former captain Mark Giordano’s 1,000th game back in 2022. However, there was something bittersweet to the ceremony, as Giordano was a healthy scratch. The Kraken let him get to those 1,000 games played, but it was right before the trade deadline, and so they sat him for trade purposes.

There’s something kind of ironic that this time around for Eberle’s ceremony, it’s a bit of a celebration that he didn’t get traded before it could happen—a celebration that he gets to stay.

No one might be happier about that than the Kraken players themselves. To 93.3 KJR, Matty Beniers sat in his locker room stall after practice on Monday and said that the mood was already down among the team after losing Alex Wennberg to the New York Rangers and that they were “a little worried” about who might leave next. Yet, when the team all found out that Eberle re-signed, the mood was “elevated” and “everyone was so happy.” Even just hearing the excitement in Beniers’ voice as he recalled how he learned about Eberle re-signing (on the car ride to practice with roommate and fellow teammate Will Borgen) shows how much Eberle means to this Kraken team.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. From day 1, Jordan Eberle was one of the clearest home run selections from the expansion draft. The Kraken were able to tag him as one of the first six players to arrive in Seattle, alongside Mark Giordano, Brandon Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Chris Driedger, and Haydn Fleury. While only four of those six names remain with the organization, these players certainly weren’t chosen out of a hat at random. The Kraken wanted them to be the first faces Seattle were introduced to for a reason.

With Eberle, that reason would be to just look back at the first 779 regular season games of his career. Truly, we could even go further back to discuss the kind of clutch, skilled player he is by reminiscing on his game-tying World Juniors goal, but that kid still hadn’t played in his first NHL game yet. It was certainly a sign of things to come, though, and that kind of skill came through for his first NHL goal.

How many first NHL goals come on a shorthanded breakaway like that? Impressive work for a 20-year-old. There have been many first goals scored, but Eberle’s is up there with one of the best.

For the 507 games with the Edmonton Oilers, Eberle went from a young kid living in a place with Taylor Hall and having to do things like buy groceries for himself for the first time to helping usher in the careers of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. (Also, I can’t mention the Eberle and Hall duo without bringing up the worst hangman game of all time.) Yet during those early seasons for McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers as a team were struggling to do well in the playoffs, and eventually something would have to give.

On June 22, 2017, Eberle was traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome. On the Islanders, Eberle would grow into becoming more of a leader both on and off the ice. He especially was a major performer in the playoffs for them. In 2019, he scored in each of the four games that swept the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the first round, handing the Sidney Crosby era its worst playoff outing to that point.  During the 2020 bubble playoffs, Eberle helped lead the Islanders all the way to the Conference Finals. While they would lose to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning, there’s no denying his importance to getting the team that far. The Islanders were able to hang on in that series til game 6 thanks to Eberle’s goal in the second overtime period of game 5. Beyond his on-ice skills, he helped keep the environment during those playoffs light-hearted by writing the team a little anthem, with assists from Anders Lee and Mat Barzal.

There’s a reason that Eberle is celebrating 1,000 games played and not 1,000 songs written, but let’s ignore the songwriting quality here. No, teams don’t win playoff games solely through good vibes, but as I mentioned, this was the 2020 bubble playoffs. This was at the height of the pandemic. The players and staff were all quarantined. There were no fans in the stands. Players had to be separated from their family, friends, and other loved ones. Plus, the deeper a team went into the playoffs, the longer that separation was. While stuck in their hotel rooms, Eberle had a guitar and a dream, and that dream was to help keep the spirits up amongst the Islanders in such an environment.

This is the kind of player the Kraken received in the expansion draft on July 21, 2021. They gained someone who could come up clutch in the biggest moments, but someone who also knew how to lead a team and keep everyone going during even the worst times. It’s not surprising that, when the team’s first leadership group was announced, Eberle became an alternate captain for the Kraken. While being a leader in the locker room doesn’t require wearing a letter, no one earns a letter without being a leader. In these past three seasons with the Kraken, a leader is exactly what Jordan Eberle has been.

After all, who else but Eberle would score the first hat trick in Seattle Kraken history? It was only the 11th game the Kraken had ever played, but Eberle put together a dominant performance against the Buffalo Sabres while the team was still trying to find its groove.

Eberle would then go on to be the Kraken’s first All-Star Game representative out in Las Vegas. While he lost during the Fountain Faceoff challenge (and was crushed that he didn’t beat Claude Giroux specifically), he would be the first Kraken player to score a goal at the All-Star Game, something he said he wanted to do for the team and fans.

Fast forward to the next season, and Eberle would bring the overtime heroics when the Kraken made it to the playoffs for the first time in 2023. The series against the Colorado Avalanche was 2-1 that night, and if the Kraken had lost, their next game would have seen them facing down the barrel of elimination. Instead, Eberle ensured they’d go back to Colorado with the series tied.

There have been so many other highlight reel goals during Eberle’s 220 games with the Kraken. Spinning backhanders and overtime winners are some of the standouts. As for my personal favorites, getting to see him score off a breakaway while I was sat not too far behind the net in Philadelphia on February 12, 2023 is my most biased choice. (I don’t live in Seattle, I don’t get to see Kraken goals in person often.) In terms of big play goals, I don’t know if I’ll ever think about a goal more than this season’s overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings on October 24, 2023.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of what makes it so memorable is how, as he scores on his knees, he stays there catching his breath, and Jared McCann uses it to his advantage to lean down and place a kiss atop Eberle’s helmet. It’s far from the first time that the Kraken have shown affectionate gestures on the ice, but it shows how much Eberle means to the rest of his team. It was one game early in the season, but this singular overtime winner had McCann appreciating his winger in a way he usually reserves for the goaltenders.

When thinking about what Eberle has meant to the Kraken these past three seasons, I also have to mention how he has served as a mentor to Matty Beniers. For the majority of Beniers’ 148 games played, Eberle has been on his wing. The two of them seem to be extremely close off the ice as well—or at least close enough for the two of them to make World Juniors bets.

Of his 296 career goals and 399 career assists, 55 goals and 89 assists have come with the Kraken. He’s not the most prolific scorer on the team—that honor would go to McCann—but he’s a major key to the development of this team’s identity and players. It’s why the team is ecstatic to get to keep Eberle around for at least another two years. It’s why Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times even posits that Eberle should be the next captain of the Seattle Kraken.

Of the three teams that Eberle has played on to reach 1,000 games, he’s played less games with the Kraken than he has the Oilers or Islanders. Yet his impact on this team might outweigh his accomplishments on the other two. Why? It’s all because he’s helped to build the culture of a team from square one. He’s a vocal leader, representing the team both in the locker room but outside of it. The moment of off-ice leadership that stands out the most to me was when he gave his voice to support assistant athletic trainer Justin Rogers when he came out as gay. Eberle doesn’t have to do these things, but chooses to. It’s the kind of character that supports the Kraken’s mission to make hockey a more inclusive place for all, and if he can model those behaviors for others, then more players can follow.

No one gets to 1,000 games without learning valuable lessons down the road. It’s a tough grind. Having been through that journey, though, with big goals and tight-knit connections made along the way, the Kraken are lucky that they not only get the chance to celebrate this milestone for Eberle but that they get to keep him around. I’m not sure what the team will do tonight and what they’ll do for the ceremony itself, but all I can hope for is that they’ll play him some Nickelback.

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