If you're going to have an up-and-down season, at least make sure that the "up" part happens when it matters most.
That seems to be the case right now for Cody Eakin, a player that's struggled to the point of controversy at times this season but has been a big difference-maker on the ice for the Dallas Stars over the past two weeks.
Eakin has picked up eight points (four goals and four assists) over the past six games, including points in four straight. He's now up to 34 points in 73 games this season, which ties him for sixth on the Stars. Additionally, Eakin has also tightened up his play in all three zones over that span (a bad giveaway against Tampa Bay that got him temporarily benched notwithstanding), making him all that more valuable to his team.
It's a far cry from the tough patch of hockey that Eakin was going through not that long ago, as I wrote about in this same space.
Now, it's absolutely no coincidence whatsoever that Eakin's recent uptick in performance coincides with his elevation up to the team's top line alongside Jamie Benn. It's been said before that playing with Benn would make anyone a better hockey player, and of course, that's entirely accurate. Naturally, Eakin is going to look much better playing with the Stars captain as opposed to, say, Antoine Roussel (no offense, Antoine), who has been Eakin's most regular linemate over the past three seasons.
But, to his credit, Eakin is certainly making the most of the opportunity and carrying his weight. For whatever reason, Eakin and Benn seem to have a palpable chemistry together when they're out on the ice. This was on display most prominently in the game against the Lightning, with the line producing three of the team's goals, including this beauty of a game-winner:
Using the Super Unscientific Eyeball Test, it could be potentially surmised that the style of play that Eakin best excels at (fast, aggressive, tenacious puck-hounding) works with Benn because it forces turnovers and creates space for more talented players. It's pretty straightforward stuff: separate the puck from the opposition, get it to an open teammate and let them do the rest. It's the exact same kind of workmanship that has made Patrick Eaves such a good fit on the top line as well.
A nice example of this came again in the Tampa Bay game, although it was Stephen Johns that was the benefactor instead of Benn. Watch as Eakin goes into a puck battle with two Lightning players, yet still comes out with the puck and sets up the goal:
Eakin's recent success with Benn on the top line is especially important right now considering the huge injury loss that the Stars suffered this past week, with Tyler Seguin expected to be out until the start of the playoffs. There are nine games remaining in the season, and while a playoff spot is incredibly likely at this point, Dallas maintaining their current lead in the Central Division could mean the difference between playing either the Colorado Avalanche or the Minnesota Wild in the opening round compared to the St. Louis Blues or Chicago Blackhawks.
There are still some big holes in his game that need to be patched up (namely, his coverage in the defensive zone), but giving credit where credit is due, Eakin has certainly played a big part in the little hot streak that the Stars are on right now. With the postseason just around the corner it could pay huge dividends for the team if Eakin is able to keep this ball rolling.