Adam Cracknell has bounced around quite a bit as a pro hockey player. The 31-year-old forward has been with seven NHL teams over his 11-year career and six different minor league teams in both the AHL and ECHL. And there have been a lot of transactions, including 17 assignments to the minors, and a trade to St. Louis from Columbus for future considerations.
But now, Cracknell is hoping he has found some traction in Dallas, where he has had a career-year at the NHL level and earned himself a one-year, $675,000 contract extension for 2017-18.
"It's a nice feeling coming to the rink knowing that you are part of the team and not worrying about what could go wrong," Cracknell said. "It's nice to get it done during the season. I showed management what I could do for the team, and it's been a good personal season, but we are not where we want to be as a team, so it's a little bittersweet."
Cracknell has set a career-high in games played in the NHL (59), goals scored (seven) and points (12), and his plus-ten rating ranks second on the team. He's averaged more than ten minutes per game, playing both center and wing primarily on the fourth line. His offensive numbers don't jump out at you, but Cracknell's job is not to put up big numbers. He's out there to be responsible defensively and do the little things. And he's done all that.
"He's done a good job for us in his role. He's been good at managing the puck" Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "What I like is that once he gets into the offensive zone, he's a big body on the puck, and he's able to hang onto it."
Cracknell's ability to hang onto pucks was evident in Monday's game against San Jose when he skated with the puck for several seconds in the offensive end, worked his way to the left point and put a shot on net that Curtis McKenzie tipped in for the only goal in the Stars' 1-0 victory.
"That's probably the biggest strength of [Cracknell's] game there," McKenzie said. "He must have had it for a good ten seconds before he shot it at the net."
When the Stars signed Cracknell to a one-year, two-way contract a couple of days into free agency last summer, it didn't draw a lot of attention. Cracknell was seen as a depth guy who would probably start in the AHL and be available for call-ups to the NHL.
But when injuries started to mount as the Dallas Stars opened training camp in Cedar Park, the door opened for Cracknell and others. And Cracknell seized the opportunity.
"He was a guy who was fortunate with the injuries we had to be given a bigger opportunity and took advantage of it," said Ruff. "It's one thing to get the opportunity, and it's another to take advantage of it."
Cracknell had some confidence after the 2015-16 season, the first one in his career that he had spent entirely in the NHL, playing 52 games with both Vancouver and Edmonton.
"When you sign a two-way contract, you kind of expect to be in the minors and have to work your way up," Cracknell said. "But I think all the experience I have had with the different teams and seeing the different situations, and I had the confidence from last year, that I didn't have the nervousness going into camp. They signed me for a reason. I wasn't going out there to be Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn."
While he's not flashy, it is hard to miss Cracknell around Stars practices and morning skates. He is usually the first skater on the ice, putting pucks on net to help the goaltenders get some work.
"He's a guy that is out there 20 minutes early every day with the goaltender coach and the goaltenders, doing all the work and shooting every day," Ruff said. "You can't help but improve your shot if you are shooting every day. He's the first guy to the rink and that all plays into it."
And the work has paid off for Cracknell, a ninth-round pick by Calgary in the 2004 NHL Draft, the last year there were nine rounds in the draft. He's weaved his way through the pro ranks with the Flames, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Columbus, Vancouver, Edmonton and now the Stars. There have been plenty of ups and downs for Cracknell over the years, but he's never stopped working, and the contract extension with the Stars is a nice reward.
"Things aren't always going to go the way you want. But you can control your effort. It's all on me to show, and I don't expect anything to get handed to me," Cracknell said. "I want to go out there and earn it every night. That's what makes me better. Now, it's not about just getting the contract. I want to show management that they made the right decision and keep me around for the future. This is the spot where I want to be."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.