“That was really tough,” Eakin said. “I had never done anything like that before.”
It was tough on the ice in Washington as well, knowing that any kind of glitch in his game could mean another assignment to the AHL, and a two-and-a-half hour drive to Hershey.
“I was playing not to make a mistake instead of just playing the way I knew I could,” he said. “I was playing hard, but not too risky. I was playing not to make a mistake and essentially was hurting my game.”
“It was fatiguing going between the two teams. But I wasn’t complaining. I was excited to be up in Washington and when I played in Hershey I saw it as an opportunity to get more ice time.”
In his second pro season, this time as a Dallas Star, Eakin is a little more at ease in the NHL, and feeling confident that he is able to play his game.
“This season I feel a lot more comfortable on the ice,” Eakin said. “I feel like I can go out there and play to score a goal instead of just playing defensively. There are going to be mistakes, but having a bigger role means learning from my mistakes and not making the same one twice.”
The 21-year-old Eakin has established himself as a dependable and versatile player for the Stars early in the season. He started out on the fourth line, but was bumped up the lineup when the Stars needed help in the top six and played well.
“You could argue that he has been one of our best players,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “He was able to step up in our lineup when we had injuries, when we didn’t have Jamie Benn, when we didn’t have Derek Roy. He did a real good job for us. I’ve been impressed with his work ethic, and how hard he competes on the puck.”
During that stretch in the top six he centered a line with Ray Whitney and Michael Ryder, and he registered five assists over a six-game span.
“I didn’t know much about him until he got here and I started playing with him,” said Ryder. “He’s a hard worker and a good skater. He stepped in when we didn’t have Derek and Jamie Benn, and I think he’s done a great job. I think he might have been a little underrated coming into the season.”
The Stars acquired Eakin and a second round draft pick in June from the Washington Capitals in exchange for center Mike Ribeiro. After missing the playoffs four straight years, the Stars were looking to move in a different direction and Eakin was a guy the Stars’ scouts had liked dating back to his days in the Western Hockey League.
“He was always a top player in the Western League and as a result our amateur scouting department had a really good feel for him,” said Les Jackson, Stars Assistant GM, Scouting and Development. “When he started to play in the NHL, our scouts kept their eye on him as well. We also have an association with Mark Lamb (former Stars assistant coach), who coached him in Swift Current (WHL), and we were able to get some good information from him.”
“Reports from our amateur scouts have always been good on Cody, and even when he turned pro and was playing in Hershey our scouts knew he had determination,” said Nieuwendyk. “When we started having talks with Washington around the draft, he was the guy that we targeted.”
Eakin, a third round pick (85th overall) by Washington in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was surprised when he got a call from Capitals GM George McPhee letting him know he was headed to Dallas.
“I was out at the lake and going fishing. I was caught off guard. I didn’t see it coming, or hear anything like that. That’s the business,” Eakin said. “After that, I was pretty excited and looking forward to a new opportunity.”
Eakin had some knowledge of the Dallas organization. He works out in the offseason with Stars forward Ryan Garbutt and Dallas prospect Scott Glennie, which helped in the transition to his new team.
And that transition began in Cedar Park, where he played with the Texas Stars of the AHL during the NHL lockout. He was a model of consistency, putting up 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) and a plus-8 rating in 35 games while centering the top line and playing both ends of the special teams game.
“Cody Eakin was the Texas Stars’ most consistent skater at the beginning of the season and as a result he was never out of the top lines every night,” said Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “That’s a real telltale sign that the player is ready for the NHL.”
And Eakin hasn’t disappointed since the NHL season began. He’s played well wherever the Stars have put him, and he has turned some heads with his play.
“He’s actually a surprise right now with how well he has played,” said Gulutzan. “The one thing I asked him to do – about four or five games in – was to up his battle level, his individual one-on-one effort. All of a sudden he’s one of the guys winning a majority of his battles. He’s been doing a little bit of everything for us and we can trust him in all situations. We trust him killing five-on-three, five-on-four and he’s played against the world’s best five-on-five. He’s done a real good job for us.”
Eakin struggled in the faceoff circle early in the season, winning just 7 of 32 (22 percent) over the first four games, but worked to quickly turn that part of his game around. Over his next nine games he won 68 of 119 (57 percent).
“We challenged him to improve his faceoffs because we needed him to be better in the draws,” Gulutzan said. “We said if you want more ice time you’ve got to win faceoffs.”
Eakin said he was getting used to facing off against better centers in the NHL and received some tips from teammates that helped turn things around in the circle.
“I started off the season pretty bad and I don’t think I won one for my first 10 or 15 draws. I think mentally I may have psyched myself out having to share the circle with NHL superstars,” he said. “I knew I could win draws because I have been a good faceoff guy at every stage of my career. I started to spend more time working with all the centermen for the Stars like Derek Roy and Vernon Fiddler. The things I learned from them were huge to help me gain confidence.”
Eakin has been clicking for the Stars this season. There’s nothing fancy about his game, just a lot of hard work, relentless pursuit of pucks and a solid two-way game.
“I know I can bring speed, energy and be reliable defensively. If I can do all of these things well, I feel that it will help spark my game offensively,” Eakin said. “I have to make sure I am playing the right way, and do everything I can to help the team.”
And the Stars will have no problems with that.