(PRESS RELEASE: Penguins sign Mark Eaton)
The Pittsburgh Penguins were in search of a solid defenseman.
They found one in Mark Eaton, who signed a two-year deal with the club on Monday.
Eaton is excited to join the Penguins.
“Absolutely. I think it’s exciting times right now with the talent that’s there,” he said. “I think the present and future looks bright for Pittsburgh.”
Eaton, who spent the last five NHL seasons in Nashville, reunites with Penguins General Manager Ray Shero in Pittsburgh. Shero was the Predators’ assistant general manager the previous eight seasons.
“It was nice. He knows me pretty well. He’s seen me play the last five years in Nashville,” Eaton said. “For him to show that kind of confidence in me is a boost in confidence for me. It gives me more incentive to perform well in Pittsburgh and show that he made the right decision in me.”
The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Eaton is a solid, responsible blueliner. He had four points (3+1) and 44 penalty minutes in 69 games with the Predators last season. He led the team in blocked shots with 170 and ranked fifth on the team in average ice time (19:43). Also, he topped all Predators and ranked seventh in the league in average short-handed ice time per game (5:22) on a team that ranked fifth in the league in penalty killing success.
“Ray talked to me a little bit over the last couple days about what he expected out of me. He’d like me to come in and basically do what I did in Nashville,” Eaton said. “I didn’t get to see much of the Penguins last year. If there is a void like that that needs to be filled, I’d like to look upon myself as a guy who can fill that void.”
However, Eaton, who is a left-handed shot, won’t be afraid to chip in offensively, too.
“My role in Nashville was a defensive role. I played a lot of penalty kill and played the tough minutes against other opponents’ big lines,” he said. “Going into turning pro, I had more of an offensive game that I think now is still a little bit untapped. Hopefully, that can come to the table as well in Pittsburgh.”
Eaton, who is only 29, is excited to join a solid young nucleus of Penguins talent in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney and Colby Armstrong – among others.
“There’s no doubt about that. It’s going to be exciting times. To be able to be a part of that is definitely exciting – to be able to succeed now and going forward into the future,” he said. “It’s a very young team and I am not old yet by any means, either. To be able to grow together and try to bring a hockey championship back to Pittsburgh will be an exciting time.”
Eaton went through the building process once before in Nashville, where the Predators evolved into one of the NHL’s most-exciting teams. He believes the Penguins are ahead of the curve.
“You learn a lot when you’re in that kind of situation. I think the Penguins are much farther along in their growing phase than Nashville was when I first got there,” he said. “I don’t look at it as any kind of needing a year or so to grow. I think we can go in there with attitudes at the beginning of this year to at least make the playoffs and go from there. By no means are myself or I’m sure anyone else on the team expecting to just build on last year. We want to go in there and make some noise and win a lot of hockey games.”
Eaton, who was born in Wilmington, Delaware, played one season in Philadelphia (1999-2000) with Penguins winger John LeClair. He also knows Penguins forward Ryan Malone from various Team USA tournaments and camps.
Eaton looks forward to joining the Penguins defensive corps and helping youngsters like Ryan Whitney and Noah Welch progress on the blueline.
“They are young guys, but they played a lot last year and they know what it takes to be successful at this level,” he said. “For me, learning the defensive part of the game at the NHL level was probably the hardest thing. That’s one of my stronger suits in my game nowadays. If I can lend a helping hand in any way, then that’s what it will probably be.”