“Initially, I was caught off guard,” Eakin said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think I’d be traded.”
A little time reflecting on the news brought a fresh perspective.
“I let it sink in a bit and started to realize it’s beneficial and that it’s a fresh start,” he said. “I’m excited for it.”
The Stars gave up one of their most skilled and productive offensive players in Ribeiro, but believe they got a very good young player in the 21-year-old Eakin, who is considered one of the top young prospects in the NHL.
|Eakin celebrates after scoring a second period goal against Phoenix on November 21, 2011 |
“Mike did a lot of good things and kept our franchise extremely competitive through difficult times in a lot of ways. He’s a highly creative player who will be a good asset for the Washington Capitals,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “From our standpoint, we’ve been looking to go in a different direction and we had the chance to acquire a young, emerging center who has already been through the development, and is now NHL-ready. It just made a lot of sense for us in where we want to get to.”
The Stars, who haven’t made the playoffs the last four seasons, are looking for younger pieces to build around guys like Jamie Benn. Nieuwendyk believes the speedy and skilled Eakin, who played 30 games for Washington last season, is a good fit, although where he might fit in the lineup is still to be determined.
“He’s the type of player that does anything to help the team win. His work ethic will be there,” said Nieuwendyk. “He’s a very versatile player; he plays with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. I don’t like to get too caught up in the second- and third-line stuff, but he is a player who can help us.”
While Nieuwendyk thinks Eakin is ready for the NHL, the young center isn’t taking anything for granted. The 6-0, 190 pound Winnipeg native said he’s wants to prove he deserves a spot on the Stars roster this coming season.
“I think every season, over the summer, that’s what you want to try to do,” Eakin said. “In my situation last season, I didn’t get a whole ton of time, but I did get some good time. I want to get stronger and faster and hopefully earn a spot when the time comes.”
Eakin, a third-round pick (85th overall) by Washington in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was ranked second among Capitals’ prospects and 31st among all NHL prospects by The Hockey News in its Future Watch 2012.
He’s coming off his first full professional season which saw him split time between Hershey of the AHL and the NHL Capitals. He had 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 43 games for Hershey, leading the team in rookie scoring. His .63 points per game were 21st among all AHL rookies. In the 30 games he played for Washington, he registered eight points (four goals and four assists).
“It was a good learning experience for me,” said Eakin. “The year before (in juniors) I was the go-to guy, and this year, I had to do a lot of watching and absorbing from the older guys in Washington and Hershey. It was a positive season and I learned a lot. Hopefully I am ready to continue that and grow as a player.”
It was an up-and-down season for Eakin, literally. He was involved in 14 transactions – assigned to Hershey seven times and recalled to Washington seven times.
“That was one of the hardest things I had to overcome,” he said. “Every day it felt like I could get sent back or called up. Getting the opportunity was great, but it was challenging. It’s your first year, so it’s another thing you have to overcome.”
In Hershey there was a lot of ice time, including some on the penalty kill and power play groups.
“I got a little bit of everything, which was nice,” Eakin said. “It allowed me to get comfortable at the pro level.”
In Washington he saw mostly checking duty on the fourth line.
“This year I just tried to be as steady as I could, keep my legs going and create energy when I got the opportunity,” he said. “Where I see myself is two-way, hard to play against and when I get an opportunity, I can score.”
Eakin, a left shot who can play both center and wing, was a big scorer in juniors. He had 239 points (118 goals, 121 assists) in 238 games playing for both Swift Current and Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. In 2009-10, he finished tied for third in the WHL in goal scoring with 47 and ranked ninth in points with 91 – in 70 games.
At the end of the 2009-10 season, he joined Hershey on an amateur tryout contract. He scored two goals in four regular season games and then played in five of the six games in the Calder Cup Finals as Hershey defeated the Texas Stars.
“That was great. It seems like forever ago,” said Eakin. “It rounded me a bit and gave me a chance to see what the next level was all about and take it back to junior and be a better player. It was a great opportunity and it was fun to be on that ice when that Calder Cup was won.”
The next season, Eakin was back in juniors and was part of one of the biggest trades in WHL history, getting shipped from Swift Current to Kootenay for five players and three draft picks. Talk about expectations. But Eakin delivered, scoring 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 19 playoff games as Kootenay won the WHL championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup.
“You kind of thrive on that pressure; you like to be in that uncomfortable role where you are forced to play as hard as you can,” Eakin said. “I think that move was huge for me. It gave me an opportunity to play for Kootenay, have such a great team, work together with every guy and we ended up winning. It worked out pretty well.”
Stars prospect Matt Fraser was a big part of that Kootenay team, so he’ll be a familiar face for Eakin as he adjusts to this trade and begins the next phase in his hockey career.
And there are a couple other players in the Stars organization who should help smooth his transition to the Dallas organization.
“Scott Glennie and Ryan Garbutt, we’re good buddies and we all train together,” said Eakin. “They speak very highly of the organization. That makes the transition easier. They’ve got me pretty excited.”