Cody Eakin didn’t wind up with a point in Thursday’s rookie game (he had a goal taken away from him that was rightfully awarded to Garrett Ross), and the top prospect wasn’t thrilled with his performance.
“I didn’t create as much as I wanted to, but in the third period I think I played with a lot more intensity,” he said. “It’s not in a bad way, it’s in a healthy way. It’s going to push me for the next game to not repeat the same thing twice. It’s as healthy pressure I put on myself.”
Eakin is expected to compete with Mattias Sjogren and probably the likes of Mathieu Perreault, Christian Hanson and maybe even Chris Bourque for one of the Capitals’ final roster spots.
Coaches liked what they saw out of Eakin in the 3-2 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia, with coach Bruce Boudreau complimenting Eakin, Sjogren and defenseman Dmitry Orlov for wanting to be on the ice in key situations.
“I thought [Eakin] was one of the best players on the ice,” Hershey Bears coach Mark French said. “I think Cody’s got a high standard of how he wants to play. Most times after a loss any great player’s going to say that they wanted to be better. I think Cody in a lot of areas was very good. I think he holds himself in a very high regard and probably wants more from himself.”
It was obvious very early on Thursday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center that Mattias Sjogren has three years of pro experience in Sweden on his resume. He plays even bigger than his 6-foot-1, 209-pound frame and was able to muscle around opponents like he did Eakin back in July at development camp.
Sjogren has a leg up to make the team because he’s big and strong, and French called him the “most polished” player the Caps had in the rookie game.
“For a coach, you notice that he’s very strong in the faceoff circle, very hard to take off the puck whether it’s defensively, down low or in the offensive zone,” French said. “He had some pretty good chances to score. For me it was easy to see that he had maturity of playing some very high quality hockey. I thought he showed that maturity well on the ice tonight.”
One of the most impressive personalities and players this past week was Garrett Mitchell, who has an edge to his game despite being a smaller player. Mitchell scored a goal Thursday, knocking a rebound in past Philadelphia’s Michael Houser.
The goal was just one piece of Mitchell’s strong play, as he was getting involved in battles and taking some big hits while never slowing down.
“That’s the stuff you love,” Boudreau said. “That’s why he was the captain in junior. For not a big guy, he’s one of those guys that keeps his legs chugging along and he’s never-say-die. Tonight he got a goal, rewarded him for his efforts. That’s what makes you a really good organizational hockey player that someday is going to make it.”
Mitchell is expected to play in Hershey this year and add some more polish to his rough-around-the-edges style. He took a big hit Thursday and mentioned it led to a bit of a “stinger” or whiplash – but he expects to receive some punishment.
“That’s my game to create energy and I just tried to do my best,” he said. “Obviously you’re going to take a couple hits and there are times in hockey when you’re going to have to take those hits. It’s all part of it and you have to try to get on the other side of them.”
Dmitry Orlov was the standout star Thursday, and his fine performance from the Caps’ blue line conjured up some memories for Flyers prospect Brayden Schenn. Schenn (while with Canada) played against Orlov (Russia) during the world junior championships and remembered how he can impact a game.
“I recognized him out there tonight,” Schenn said. “Obviously he has a lot of skill and he’s tough to play against.”
Orlov and rookie captain Dustin Stevenson were at the center of another nice development for Caps defensemen – the ability to get a lot of shots to the net from the point. Stevenson’s rocket set up Mitchell’s goal, and Orlov almost tied the score late by getting one through.
“I try and work on that as much as I can. Being a D-man, you kind of got to make sure your shot gets through; guys are so good at blocking shots at this level,” Stevenson said. “Our D-men did a good job of walking the line and finding openings to get the pucks to the net.”
Poise was one of Orlov’s best attributes in his first rookie game, but his ability to fire the puck earned some notice, too.
“He’s got a good knack, and for him it’s usually a slap shot,” French said. “A lot of guys from the point use a wrist shot to get it through, but he has a pretty good ability to get a slap shot through to the net.”