October 30, 2014

Eakin uses demotion as opportunity to strengthen skills

Cody Eakin scored his first goal at home (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

For most young hockey players, reaching the NHL is the culmination of a lifelong dream. But many young players that finally get a taste of the NHL fail to understand the reasoning behind being demoted to the American Hockey League after they’ve reached the big leagues. Their inability to grasp the move often leads to poor play in the minors and hinders the chances of getting called back up quickly. Washington Capitals prospect Cody Eakin is the exception to the trend though, as the young 20-year old sees his demotion as an opportunity to strengthen his skills.

Eakin is regarded as one of the more promising center prospects in the Capitals farm system. On the first of November, he got a chance to show his skills in the NHL when the Caps called him up. In almost two months and 19 games of NHL time, Eakin recorded three goals, three assists and was a cumulative plus-2, but the most important qualities he showed while with Washington can’t be quantified in statistics.

Despite showing some true ability, many of them highlighted in the impressive first career goal he scored against the Carolina Hurricanes, Eakin was not getting the ice time he needed to fully develop and harden his skills. Much to any players dismay, Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter informed Eakin he would be sent down on the plane ride back to D.C. after Washington’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The less-than-stellar news didn’t effect Eakin though, as he has a surprisingly resilient attitude despite his age.

“Hunter said I needed more minutes,” Eakin said of being sent down to Hershey. “[I know] if I can get more minutes it will help my game.”

His attitude and the mental side of hockey is something Eakin seems to have a handle on early in his career and it shows in his on ice performance. During an odd-man rush against the Carolina Hurricanes, Eakin took a pass from Alexander Semin and skated through the right faceoff circle and flicked the puck passed Cam Ward for his first career goal. Semin may have been open on the play for a tough pass many youngsters may have tried to force, but Eakin followed his instincts and didn’t fall for the trap many rookies fall victim to.

“When playing you stop thinking and instincts take over,” Eakin said of his playing style that helped him score his first goal. “When you think too much it affects your game.”

While he doesn’t have the puck and admits the Caps probably still have it, the moment of his first goal will most likely be one Eakin remembers for the rest of his life.

Even though he was with the Caps for less than 20 games, the Winnipeg, Manitoba native got to experience things several NHL players don’t get to do in a career. Perhaps none of the moments were more exciting than getting to return to his hometown to face the Jets. Eakin said a “whole bunch” of family and friends attended the game.

“I remember when the Jets left,” he said. “It is great to get to play them in Winnipeg the first year they are back in the league.”

On top of getting to play against his hometown hockey team, after many thought they would never exist again, Eakin was present for Washington’s change in bench bosses. Almost halfway through Eakin’s stint in the NHL, he was part of the change from Bruce Boudreau to current coach Hunter.

Despite only being in the NHL for a short time, Eakin knew Boudreau from development camps and described him as an “honest coach who respects the guys.” He said the only major change from Boudreau to Hunter was the system the team plays. Even though many fans and members of the media think the coaching change should drastically affect the team, Eakin has one fundamental belief no matter who is coaching.

“[The] job of a hockey player is do what [his] coach asks,” Eakin said when asked how much of an effect a coaching change has on a team.

His belief is one many players seem to miss in today’s NHL. For a kid who has little NHL time and was most likely the best player on every junior team he played on, it is a great sign that he understands it is more about the team than himself. Listening to the coach and leader in front of you is a big sign of a player being a good locker room guy, something Eakin seems to be. His attitude certainly can take him a long way if he is able to continue to improve his play and maintain his positive outlook.

At only 20, Eakin has many years of hockey ahead of him, but one could easily mistake him for a professional hockey veteran with his mature attitude. The young prospect’s call up to the Caps was what he described as an “opportunity to get ice time,” but it may end up meaning so much more in the longterm. Hockey is what he said he has wanted to do his whole life and there is a good chance, barring any setbacks, it will end up being what he does for a majority of it.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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