Cody Eakin’s special moment came with a side of blue shaving gel — all over his face, his clothes, his pads. Eakin scored his first NHL goal Friday night at Carolina and was on the messy end of Alex Ovechkin’s locker-room celebration.
That was just the center’s second game at this level — and second strong performance as he validated the Washington Capitals‘ promoting him from AHLHershey. Still, every day at practice he checks his stall to make sure there’s still a jersey waiting for him.
“I’m enjoying every second, but no day’s guaranteed,” Eakin said. “So you’ve got to make sure you work hard.”
What first appeared to be a cameo in the NHL stretched to a third game as the Capitals entertained the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. The speedy, versatile 20-year-old has shown potential for staying power amid uncertainty.
“Uncertainty is a big thing in this game, especially in Cody’s shoes. He’s a young guy trying to establish himself in this league, and uncertainty’s huge,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “You can’t control other things and other aspects of the game. You can only worry about yourself and your work ethic and your drive to make the team better, and things seem to take care of themselves.”
That spotlight role didn’t make Eakin look anything like a rookie, something coach Bruce Boudreau attributed to his experience in the Memorial Cup (Canada’s junior hockey championship tournament) and the World Junior Championship.
“When you got 18,000 people when it’s in Canada and a whole nation glued to every minute you have, I don’t think you get fazed whoever you play with,” Boudreau said. “He’s been through the scrutiny of everything.”
The best example of Eakin fitting in well with highly skilled linemates came on his first goal. He had a two-on-one with Semin and, instead of passing to a player being paid $6.7 million to bury that shot, took it himself and beat Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward with an impressive wrister.
Talk about being comfortable in the NHL.
“I think what normally would have happened is I probably would have over-thought it and tried to force a pass. I didn’t really think about anything,” he said. “It’s kind of just like your instincts take over, I think, instead of trying to force something just because you’re with guys like Semin.”
Hershey coach Mark French noted that the third-round pick probably was surprised by the difference in talent level when he started the season with the Bears. By the third weekend, he was Hershey’s “most consistent forward, and his characteristics and strengths started to show,” French said. That in-between step from juniors to the NHL was a big help.
“If I was to go straight from junior to here, it would’ve been the same — it would have taken longer,” Eakin said.
Eakin’s fitting in well among players who already have reached their talent potential, while he’s still feeling a bit of the pressure to perform every night to stick around. But for now, that Capitals jersey remains in his stall — and might become a fixture if his play keeps up.
“He brings great speed. He brings a new element, a different element to the game for us,” Boudreau said. “We wanted to give him a chance to see what he has. He’s done really well with the chance.”
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