Theme: “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are."
-- John Pierpont Morgan
(click pic for larger image)
"He hasn't looked out of place, I'll tell you that. It's not like you can tell he's an 18- or 19-year-old; he's hung right in there. . . . His maturity, I think, is beyond his years, too, so that's really good."
-- Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau describing Cody Eakin in Training Camp 2010
“Here’s a guy who went to the Memorial Cup and you don’t finish playing until the end of May and you probably take a few weeks off — boy it’s hard to get back into it in early July. It wasn’t his draft year, he knew he was turning pro but he knows that it counts now — July 10 it didn’t count — and he’d been through three [development camps]. You can see a little bit more determination on his face. I think it will show.”
-- Boudreau on Eakin after the first on-ice session, Training Camp 2011
Twice Cody Eakin came to training camp with the Washington Capitals as a young player with a future, but not necessarily a present with the big club. Twice he made it difficult to send him down. Twice the Capitals did just that – back to Swift Current in Canadian juniors in 2010, down to Hershey in the AHL in 2011.
As the 2011-2012 season started with Eakin skating for the Bears, one had to remember that he was still a raw 20-year old prospect only 28 months removed from his being selected in the third round (85th overall) in the 2009 NHL entry draft. He did not let down upon his being sent to Hershey from last fall’s training camp. He was 3-5-8, plus-3 in ten October games with the Bears. It was a month in which the big club was paying attention; he was called up in time to make his NHL debut on November 1st against the Anaheim Ducks. Eakin did not put up any points in the 5-4 overtime win, but he had three shots on goal (four attempts), a hit, and a blocked shot in 13:19 of ice time.
His recall on November 1st would be the first of seven recalls during which he played in 30 games over the course of the 2011-2012 season:
November 1, 2011 (19 games played; 3-3-6, plus-2)
December 30, 2011 (one game; 0-0-0, even)
January 12, 2012 (seven games; 1-1-2, plus-1)
January 30, 2012 (two games; 0-0-0, minus-1)
March 23, 2012 (no games)
March 28, 2012 (one game; 0-0-0, even)
May 1, 2012 (no games)
It certainly made for an up-and-down season for the youngster. But clearly, there was still work to be done. If you take away the adrenaline-fueled rush of the first recall to the bigs, a stretch of 15 games in which he was 3-3-6, plus-4, he was 1-1-2, minus-2 in his last 15 games with the big club.
But even with the small population of games played there were things to take away as positives. He was not a big hitter (15 hits in 30 games), but had more hits-per-game than Alexander Semin among forwards. He did not have many takeaways, but neither did was he charged with many giveaways (six and five, respectively). He did not take many draws (40 in 30 games) but won a majority of them (21-19). He might have had the rookie’s reticence in shooting the puck, but his shots-per-game (1.03) was not too far off Joel Ward’s (1.08) and was better than Jeff Halpern’s (0.91).
Among his fellow rookies, he did not rank especially high in points (tied for 37th among rookie forwards), but his points-per-game ranked 26th, a respectable finish for one who did not get a lot of ice time (48th in total ice time). And among Capitals forwards who played in at least 30 games, his PDO value at 5-on-5 was tied for second best (with Joel Ward and behind Keith Aucoin, so you may have that grain of salt). However, the quality of competition he faced at 5-on-5 was weakest among Caps forwards, while his quality of teammates was fourth highest among the 15 forwards in this group. Add in that his offensive zone starts was fifth highest among the 15 forwards and he had something of a sheltered existence.
Odd Eakin Fact… Of 42 forwards in franchise history playing in at least 30 games in their first season with the club (think we had to dig for this one?), only Glen Currie recorded fewer penalty minutes (two in 32 games) than did Eakin (four in 30 games).
Game to Remember… November 4, 2011. It didn’t happen in his first game, but it would in Cody Eakin’s second. His first NHL goal, that is. It came late in what would be a 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. It came mid-way through the third period with the Caps holding a 3-1 lead. Alexander Semin beat Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen to a loose puck along the wall in the defensive end and chipped it up and out of the zone. His momentum carried him past Pitkanen and to the puck in the neutral zone. Eakin filled the lane to Semin’s left as the latter collected the puck and carried it down the right wing. With Pitkanen out of the play, only Jamie McBain was back to defend the 1-on-1. Semin held the puck until he go to the Carolina blue line, then fed it across to Eakin. McBain was caught in no-man’s land without defending either Eakin or the possible pass to Semin. Eakin took his time and wristed the puck cleanly past goalie Cam Ward. It was his second point of the game, his first – and first NHL point – coming when he assisted on what would be the game-winning goal by Troy Brouwer early in the second period. Eakin finished 1-1-2, plus-2, scoring on the only shot he recorded in the game.
Game to Forget… November 25, 2011. Welcome to the bigs, kid. On the day after Thanksgiving the Capitals hosted the New York Rangers at Verizon Center. On a day when a lot went wrong for the Caps, a lot of it happened with Eakin in the vicinity. Not that it was all his fault, but out of 15 shifts he skated, five of them featured penalties – three of them against the Caps, one of which he committed when he was whistled for holding Ranger defenseman Steve Eminger in the offensive zone. Two other shifts ended in Ranger goals. All in all, the Caps lost by a 6-3 margin, while Eakin had no points, the two minutes in penalties, no shots, no shot attempts, and he lost his only faceoff in just short of 12 minutes of work.
Post Season… 0-1-1, minus-2 in five games at Hershey.
In the end… Everybody has to start somewhere, and for Cody Eakin he started in the midst of a team’s spiral downward toward a coach’s firing. He had to endure the ritual of recall and reassignment and memorize all the roadside stops between Washington and Hershey. He had the ups and downs of a rookie getting his first taste of play at its highest level. He looked at times as he fit right in, and in others as if he was out of place. He looked polished in some instances, and utterly unnoticeable in others. In other words, a rookie.
Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America