When the Dallas Stars initially signed Patrick Eaves to a one-year, $650,000 contract on July 1st, 2014, the move was met with little fanfare from the Stars faithful.
Eaves was coming off of a rough 2013-14 season. He was assigned by the Detroit Red Wings to the AHL that November and spent a month playing for the Grand Rapid Griffins. He was eventually called back up to Detroit, but then suffered an upper body injury in January. He was later traded to the Nashville Predators in March, played five games for the team, and then suffered a lower-body injury on March 20th, ending his season.
It also didn’t help that the Stars, that very same day, also acquired Jason Spezza via trade from the Ottawa Senators and signed Ales Hemsky and Anders Lindback as free agents. Suffice to say, there were a lot of things going on that day for the franchise that overshadowed the Eaves signing.
Little did anyone know then just how much of an impact Eaves was going to have in Dallas. Anyone except, of course, the man that signed him, Stars general manager Jim Nill.
Nill knew Eaves from his time with the Red Wings, where the former was their assistant general manager for 15 years. Considering Nill signed Eaves the opening day of free agency that summer, it’s safe to say that Nill had a pretty strong hunch about just how well Eaves was going to fit with the Stars.
"He's a jack-of-all-trades really. He can play a lot of positions. He can play both sides of special teams. He's been a power play guy. He's been a penalty killer. He's got the ability to score goals," head coach Lindy Ruff said of Eaves at the time. "Jim [Nill] knows a lot about him. I know a little bit less, but from what I've heard he's a guy you can use in almost any situation and can play in a lot of different positions."
How prescient that statement turned out to be.
Eaves has been a marvelous success story for Dallas. Initially expected by most to be little more than a depth signing, he has worked tirelessly over the past three seasons to become one of the most important players on the entire roster.
The versatility and reliability that Ruff mentioned came exactly as advertised, but what wasn’t expected was the offensive output. Dallas’ dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were given trials with multiple different linemates early on in the 2014-15 season, but it was Eaves that turned out to be the best complement for them on the team’s top line, doing the yeoman’s work in front of the net with deflections and rebounds. He finished the year with 27 points in 47 games.
His scoring totals dropped a bit in 2015-16 with new additions Patrick Sharp and Mattias Janmark sliding into top six roles, but he saved his best work of the season for when it mattered most: the playoffs. It was there that he picked up six points in nine games, including two goals in the six-game series against the Minnesota Wild, Dallas’ first playoff series victory since 2008.
All of this, however, has paled in comparison to the torrid pace that Eaves has started this current season with.
He has 16 points in 19 games so far, which is not only tied with Jamie Benn for second on the Stars, but is also good enough for 31st in the entire NHL. Even more impressive, his nine goals have him tied for 7th in the league, alongside prestigious names like Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Carter and Nikita Kucherov.
Not bad for a player that’s only making $1 million in salary.
The Stars have been badly beset by injuries to their forward core this season, enough so that it could have put their entire postseason hopes into an early tailspin, but the strong play of Eaves has played a huge role in keeping the team afloat to this point.
If Eaves is able to keep up his current pace he should be able to surpass his personal career-high in both goals (20) and points (32), and do so at a ripe 32 years old. It’s quite rare for guys his age to set those kinds of career highs, which should speak volumes about just how much dedication and hard work he continues to apply to his growth as a hockey player.
Dallas Stars fans might not have known much about Patrick Eaves in the summer of 2014, but they certainly do now, and for all the right reasons.