Hershey Bears coach Mark French noted that Capitals prospect Cody Eakin wasn’t on top of his game at first when the American Hockey League season started.
“I think he was surprised at the level of play and how much of a difference it was from junior,” French said Tuesday.
The adjustment period happened quickly for Eakin, and he earned his call-up to the Caps. But that adjustment didn’t take very long.
“I thought he was going to score a goal his first shift,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Most of those in the arena and watching on television likely did.
Eakin didn’t score his first NHL goal or even toss on an assist, but his debut in Washington was full of energy and strong offensive chances.
At the start, he had the spark of a top prospect buzzing around during his first game at this level.
“I don’t know. Is that’s what it looked like?” Eakin said. “ I was trying to move my feet early and get on the forecheck. And when you do that I think you generate stuff.”
Eakin took three shots and was involved on quality scoring chances on each one. The first was a wraparound attempt on his first shift with Washington, the second a worthwhile attempt that Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller swallowed up and the third a wrister from 21 feet out with a chance to tie the score with 5:14 remaining.
“There was a couple chances he had,” Boudreau said. “I bet you his parents were going pretty cuckoo back home.”
Eakin admitted having some butterflies before the game.
“I was pretty nervous. You have so much going through your head,” he said. “When you go out there, it’s just a game. I tried to tell myself that.”
The first shift and shot didn’t go in, but it may have helped calm Eakin down.
“It was a nice pass by Jo Jo there. I was just trying to keep it simple and talk to my linemates and let them know I’m there,” he said. “It was nice to have a chance, really.”
Eakin played the game like he has so many others, using his speed and smarts to excel. As Boudreau juggled lines, the 20-year-old started with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin and finished with Mathieu Perreault and Troy Brouwer. He was on the ice for Brouwer’s fluky goal that drew the Caps to within two.
And while Eakin didn’t show up big on the scoresheet, he showed up big in his coach’s eyes.
“With Cody, I thought he handled himself quite admirably,” Boudreau said. “I thought maybe a little bit in the third period he got a little nervous and gave the puck away a couple times. But you could see he could skate with these guys.”
Eakin said the Caps have not given him any indication of how long he’ll be around. Perhaps a strong debut could mean this is more than a one-game stay with the big club.
“It’s obviously up to them. They’ve got guys ready to go,” he said. “I’m happy and going to work hard while I’m here. We’ll see where it takes me.”