It was the first night of the 2012 NHL Draft. The Washington Capitals were busy working overtime, examining who and what they wanted for the upcoming season.
Cody Eakin, a native of Winnipeg and the Capitals' third round pick in the 2009 draft, was hundreds of miles away, getting ready to hit the road for a relaxing stint at his family’s cottage at Lake of the Woods.
Then the phone rang. It was Capitals general manager George McPhee.
“I missed it,” recalled the 22-year-old Eakin. “So I called back and he said I was traded.”
Eakin would be part of a packaged deal, including the Caps’ 2012 second-round pick (54th overall), in exchange for centreman Mike Ribeiro.
“I was caught off guard,” he said. “Especially that early [in my career] I didn’t expect to hear that, but I heard who I was going to and who I was traded for and I was pretty excited.”
Disappointed that he was no longer property of the team that drafted and developed him during the early stages of his career, Eakin weighed the pros and cons of heading south to join his new team.
“I kind of let it sink in for a few minutes and looked at the opportunity in front of me in Dallas,” he said.
“They traded away Ribeiro, which meant they had an opportunity at centre for me to play and get more minutes, more than I probably would have in Washington. So when I looked at the pros and cons I was pretty excited about it.”
Fast forward a year and Eakin has proven he has what it takes to be a full-time player in the National Hockey League.
In his first full season with the Stars last year, the lefty tallied seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points in a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule. It was the first time Eakin had spent an entire year an NHL club.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s tough when you’re playing five minutes a night. You’re more worried about not making a mistake and getting sent down.
“When I came in I kind of felt as if they were going to give me a fair shot and opportunity. As the season went on, I gradually played more minutes and focused on draws and defensive zone and the points came with it.
“It felt like a full season even though it was a half but there was definitely a fair amount of confidence playing with the team and it definitely helped out a lot.”
That confidence translated in to a successful 2013 training camp.
Eakin now finds himself centreing Dallas’ second line alongside veteran Ray Whitney and rookie Alex Chiasson.
“We look at that as a line that can produce some offence for us and be a line other teams consider dangerous every night,” said Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff following a morning skate Friday.
For Ruff, it’s the ability to rely on Eakin in any game situation that makes him most attractive to the Stars’ organization.
“He can be a good offensive player. He can be a guy that you can trust defensively which for any centreman is a really good place to be.
“Defensively he’s done a nice job. He’s a guy that can play on the power play. I’ve used him killing penalties. I think as these games go on his role evolves and he gets comfortable in what he’s doing best.”
It’s this kind of trust from his head coach that has allows Eakin to play his best hockey. In two games this year, Eakin has one point and is an even plus-minus, averaging over 16 minutes per game.
“There’s an opportunity for me to play some minutes here and I’m going to work hard for those minutes and try everything I can to be a two-way player and help chip in,” said Eakin.
His next opportunity comes Friday night against the Jets, in front of a sold-out crowd at the MTS Centre.
In attendance will be a number of family and friends, an experience Eakin has lived twice before while playing with Washington.
“It’s great,” he said. “I was looking forward to it since the beginning of training camp. I’ve played here twice but it definitely hasn’t gotten old yet. It’s fun and I’m looking forward to tonight.”