- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It’s better to “overcook” a prospect than undercook him is a mantra used by general manager George McPhee this summer, particularly in reference to goaltender Braden Holtby, who will have to wait his turn again.

The same is true for most prospects this week at the Washington Capitals’ development camp, many of whom are at least a couple seasons away.

As for Cody Eakin, he seems just right. The 5-foot-11 center is just 20 years old, but September will be his second time around trying to make the Caps. Last season, his age and the team’s already young roster kept him out. But Eakin is one more year older and better.

“It never hurts to let them play another year of junior and he had a terrific experience last year in junior, playing in the world championships at Christmas and then playing in the Memorial Cup,” McPhee said. “He’s a better player as a result now.”

At training camp in 2010, center Marcus Johansson broke through and made the team while Eakin fell short. Johansson was impressive in piling up 13 goals and 14 assists, while Eakin lit up the Western Hockey League — 36 goals and 47 assists in 56 games with the Swift Current Broncos and the Kootenay Ice.

In between, he represented Canada in the world junior tournament and was traded for five players and three draft picks. Talk about pressure.

“I think it was healthy pressure,” Eakin said. “I think the opportunity I got was huge, and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.”

His opportunity to make the Capitals starts this week, and Eakin knows he must impress the coaching staff and front office beginning now. With maybe one or two spots available on the opening-night roster, he has to show off the “maturity” in his game he said this extra year of experience has added.

The Caps like what they’ve seen so far.

“He’s a really well-rounded player. He does a lot of things at a high level; he’s got terrific speed, he’s a very intelligent player on the ice. He’s got good hockey sense,” McPhee said. “And those players are usually the best players. Very poised, lots of great character, he’s got grit to him. He doesn’t back down from anyone.”

Eakin doesn’t plan on backing down from the challenge of making the Caps, either. Coach Bruce Boudreau said September could present an “interesting battle” at the back end of the roster among Eakin, rookie Mattias Sjogren and Mathieu Perreault.

Sjogren has the experience of playing at the top level in Sweden and Perreault of playing in the NHL. But the ultra-competitive Eakin has his sights on winning a job.

“That’s where I’ve set my goals,” he said. “I am coming into camp to make the team and if I don’t, that’s the way it goes and I’ll play where I end up.”

Eakin could wind up in Hershey (AHL) for a year of seasoning before feeling even more pressure as a touted prospect with the Caps. But with McPhee praising the 20-year-old as a well-rounded player who can also spend time on the wing, there may not be a lot more cooking necessary.

“You obviously gotta keep improving whatever you do — keep working out, getting in better shape every day. But I think there’s not a particular area that I need to get a whole ton better at,” Eakin admitted. “I’m a two-way player, so as long as I’m thinking straight and really focusing on the two-way game and creating energy for my linemates, I think it’s right there.”

And from a mental standpoint, Boudreau sees Eakin as a guy who won’t let slip away another opportunity to make the Caps.

“He’s got that determination that he’s coming in to make the team,” he said. “He’s going to be in tremendous shape, and he’s going to do, I think, whatever it takes to stick.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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