When the Dallas Stars traded for Jason Spezza, it was clear they had now found the elusive second-line center behind Tyler Seguin they had desperately needed last year.
So where does that leave Cody Eakin?
Eakin screams checking-line center, doesn’t he? His value to the Stars is hard to quantify due to his limited offensive output, but don’t get it twisted; Eakin has an abundance of value.
Jim Nill’s decision to trade for another center says less about what the team thinks about Eakin at second-line center and more about the organization’s value of the center position – something Nill picked up during his days in Detroit.
The Stars have a legitimate one-two punch down the center in Tyler Seguin and Spezza, but Eakin, along with Shawn Horcoff (18th in our impact player rankings) and Vernon Fiddler (15), could turn what was one of the Stars' more glaring weaknesses into possibly their deepest position.
Eakin also gives Dallas a chance to be a four-line team – aspirations that several Stanley Cup winning teams in the past few seasons, particularly Boston, have had the luxury of. I’m sure Seguin knows something about the value of a third-line center as he spent the greater part of the playoffs buried in Boston’s depth during their 2010-11 Stanley Cup run.
As Daryl ‘Razor’ Reaugh can allude to, Eakin is like spackle. He can be put anywhere in the lineup and still be useful. His speed and defensive prowess alone has him in the NHL, but his development with the Stars has shown just why the Stars were willing to trade away Mike Ribeiro, which at the time seemed a little perplexing.
After playing just 48 games in 2012-13, Eakin posted a career-high in goals (16), assists (19) and points (35) last season.
Eakin, with youth on his side at the age of 23, is still awaiting his new contract after becoming a restricted free agent following his entry-level deal that paid him $637,778 the past three seasons (capgeek.com). It will be interesting to see just how much the Stars value him.
His youth and rising talent coupled with a potentially affordable contract make for some promising value. Antoine Roussel earned himself a four-year, $8 million contract. I think Eakin will garner a three-year deal at $2.5 million per season looking at the Stars' salary cap, but I'm no general manager.
His play against the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs certainly has given the Stars’ organization much to consider when finding the right number.
Eakin posted two monstrous goals and three assists in his first career playoff series for five points, which tied him with Jamie Benn and Trevor Daley for second on the team.
His first playoff goal, a spectacular coast-to-coast play that gave the Stars the 3-2 lead in Game 4, wound up as the game-winner and showcased Eakin’s offensive potential as a speedy, gritty sniper. Typically gritty and sniper don’t go together, but in Eakin’s case, his shot and his Brenden Morrow-like grit pair well together.
His second goal in Game 6, gave the Stars a 2-0 lead, but more importantly at the time, it revitalized a droopy Stars power play that made a change to move Eakin from his usual second power play unit up with the big boys in Seguin and Benn on the first.
Seguin found Eakin in the slot for a quick one-timer that looked like the play should have been the other way around with Seguin ripping a one-timer in the slot.
Eakin was sixth on the team in ice time this season, averaging 18:32 per game. It’s easy to see why Eakin played so many minutes and it’s because the Stars used him in a multitude of situations.
It also might explain his -9 rating, which was fourth worst on the team.
He earned reps as the center on the second power play crew, while also being one of the first ones counted on to kill off penalties against opposing team’s top threats. His reliability on the defensive end is where his greatest strengths reside, along with his ability to win faceoffs. Lindy Ruff showed a lot of confidence in Eakin to win key draws, especially in the defensive zone, throughout the season. Sometimes, he was on the ice just for the faceoff, kind of like Steve Ott back in the day.
As David mentioned with Fiddler, the acquisition of Spezza along with Ales Hemsky allows several players to shift into roles more suited for them.
If the Stars can get efficient, low-penalty play from the checking line, they’ll be content. But if Eakin can build on his offensive output from last season and the playoffs, the Stars will enjoy a bevy of versatility both from a position and line standpoint.
If Erik Cole has another down year, could we see Eakin on the second line with Spezza and Hemsky with Horcoff as the third-line pivot in an attempt to capitalize on Eakin's power play scoring at even strength? Crazier things have happened though you could argue that wingers like Colton Sceviour would be more likely to be tried at that spot.
Whatever role he will have in 2014-15, it seems as if Eakin is ready to take the next step in his career.