Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Eakin finds his niche

Winnipegger earns bigger minutes, No. 2 centre role with Stars

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Winnipeg product Cody Eakin (right) has carved out a significant presence with the rebuilding Stars.

BRAD LOPER / MCCLATCHEY NEWS SERVICE ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Winnipeg product Cody Eakin (right) has carved out a significant presence with the rebuilding Stars.

General MANAGERS pay for points. Coaches beg for dependability.

Cody Eakin has turned into Mr. Reliable for the Dallas Stars and he's been rewarded with prime ice time and responsibility.

Down the road it might even turn into big dollars.

 

The 22-year-old Winnipeg native will return to his hometown with the Stars tonight as a bona fide NHL regular and not just a prospect nibbling on the fringes of a roster.

Eakin broke through in last season's lockout-shortened campaign scoring seven goals and 17 assists in 48 games while establishing himself as a reliable player at both ends of the ice.

'He's a good young player. He plays hard. Goes to the hard areas and has some skill... That's what makes him so valuable, he can play any game you want to play. You can put him out on the ice at any time of the game'

-- Stars GM Jim Nill on Cody Eakin

In a short time, Eakin has gone from the odd man out with the Washington Capitals to the No. 2 centre role with the Dallas Stars.

"He's got ability to defend, ability to play against the big guys, and a pretty good offensive touch around the net," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said early in the season. "He's playing in that No. 2 hole for us and he's playing with (Alex) Chiasson and (Ray) Whitney. Every team is always looking for that secondary scoring, and he could really give us a good second-line punch."

The Stars dealt for Eakin in the summer of 2012, sending centre Mike Ribeiro to the Caps. Dallas gave up a one-dimensional offensive veteran to get a much younger two-way player in Eakin.

"He's a good young player. He plays hard. Goes to the hard areas and has some skill," Stars GM Jim Nill said in a phone interview this week. "He's versatile. He can play with skilled players or he can play that shutdown role. That's what makes him so valuable, he can play any game you want to play. You can put him out on the ice at any time of the game."

Eakin will be returning to Winnipeg for the first time with the Stars but came home on two occasions with the Capitals.

"It's always fun to come to Winnipeg and play with family and friends in the building. To play in front of Mom and Dad," Eakin told the Free Press. "I had to get quite a few tickets the first time. But almost everyone seems to have their own tickets now. I don't think I need to try and get as many as other times."

Eakin had an excellent junior career and played for Canada at the 2010-11 world junior tournament. Smallish, but with tremendous hockey sense and a strong skater, Eakin used his off-seasons to take him to the next level as a pro.

"When I took the job here in Dallas, we talked to the players about being every-dayers," said Nill. "What's an every-dayer? That's a guy that works in the summertime, hitting the gym after practice during the season. That's the difference between guys that are in and out of the league and those that stay for a long time. Cody is in great shape. When we did our fitness testing at camp, it was obvious the message sunk in."

Eakin says he wants to be a player the coach can turn to late in the third period and know what he's going to get.

"If you're not tired, your skating can take you places late in a game," said Eakin. "I want to be an asset, not a liability, late in a game. I want the coach to trust me and call my name."

Eakin is in the last year of a contract that pays him $550,000 per year and he's a bargain at that rate. The Stars will either elect to work out a bridge deal with Eakin this summer that takes him into restricted free agency with arbitration rights or they'll want a longer, more expensive deal that eats into his unrestricted free agency years.

Either way, Eakin has played himself into a strong bargaining position.

Joining Eakin with the Stars tonight will be fellow Winnipegger Ryan Garbutt. The 28-year-old has climbed his way through the Central Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and AHL before finding a home with the Stars.

"Ryan took a different route than me but he's an example of what hard work will get you," said Eakin. "It's been great having him here in Dallas. We hang out all the time. Every day. And we train together in the summer."

Garbutt played junior with the Winnipeg South Blues before spending four years at Brown University. Undrafted, he started at the bottom as a walk-on free agent and then just kept climbing.

A prototypical fourth-liner, Garbutt bangs but also has a little offensive upside. In 58 NHL games, he's scored five goals and eight assists. But in parts of two AHL seasons he collected 35 goals and 35 assists.

"He's what the game is all about. You work hard and you get rewarded for it," said Nill. "He's one of those guys that will have to be on the top of his game all the time. If he relaxes, someone else will be knocking on the door. But he knows that and he's done the most he can to be the best player he can be."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2013 C2

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Updated on Friday, October 11, 2013 at 6:49 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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