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Eakin not the player he was, but could help push Jets into playoffs

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On the edge of making the playoffs all season long, the Winnipeg Jets approached the NHL’s trade deadline as bargain buyers. In my opinion, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hit a home run in acquiring Dylan DeMelo, but he also made a pretty good low-cost deal with the Vegas Golden Knights to bring in Cody Eakin in exchange for a conditional fourth-round draft pick that could become a third-round pick if the Jets make the playoffs or re-sign Eakin in the off-season.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/02/2020 (1064 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On the edge of making the playoffs all season long, the Winnipeg Jets approached the NHL’s trade deadline as bargain buyers. In my opinion, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hit a home run in acquiring Dylan DeMelo, but he also made a pretty good low-cost deal with the Vegas Golden Knights to bring in Cody Eakin in exchange for a conditional fourth-round draft pick that could become a third-round pick if the Jets make the playoffs or re-sign Eakin in the off-season.

Eakin saw his production crater in Vegas this season after scoring 22 goals and topping 40 points last year, so it makes sense that he was on the trade block and relatively cheap to acquire, but what does he bring to the Jets going forward, and is there a chance he bounces back to his previous form?

Well one thing is for sure: Eakin is nowhere near the impact player on possession that DeMelo is. In fact, he has been getting worse from the inner slot over time, while maintaining incredibly bad impact on slot passes for and against on a team that dominates both.

New Winnipeg Jets forward Cody Eakin scored 22 goals in Las Vegas last season. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press files)

Looking at how he’s performed and how his game is trending from an on-ice perspective, it’s no surprise that the Golden Knights were looking to move in a different direction. However, we know from experience that on-ice statistics don’t tell us everything we need to know about a player and situational skill sets can allow a player to be effective in an insulated role.

The Jets have two of the league’s best grinding-type players in Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry, so there’s more insulation on a defensively responsible gritty line there than most other teams can afford. Lowry is the natural centre of the pair and on injured reserve since mid-January; that’s likely the main reason Eakin was acquired, not to mention the loss of Bryan Little back in November.

The Jets need some centres to bolster their lineup and it wouldn’t hurt if they could win some faceoffs at the same time. Eakin hasn’t been great on the dot this season, winning just 47.43 per cent of his faceoffs after three consecutive seasons between 51 and 53 per cent, but most of his struggles have been in the neutral zone.

In the offensive zone Eakin has won a solid 51.6 per cent of his faceoffs and in the defensive zone he’s been even stronger at 52.3 per cent.

Obviously, in an ideal world, Eakin would be winning key faceoffs all over the ice, but winning the faceoffs with more to gain and more to lose directly after the draw is preferable to winning them only in the neutral zone and being below average elsewhere.

Faceoff wins and losses have immediate impact, but the advantage or disadvantage that they bring fades away relatively quickly — about seven seconds after the fact — due to the multitude of subsequent plays that happen right after the faceoff is won or lost. It’s better to win than lose a faceoff, but after that play is made, it’s the team structure that takes over and truly matters.

As we discovered earlier this season, the Jets’ post-faceoff play is very strong in the offensive zone, but weak in the defensive zone. Eakin has a reputation for strong defensive play, but looking at his performance without the puck in recent seasons, his defensive impact dropped off drastically last season and has only fallen off more this year.

Where he still excels is in disrupting opposing teams’ cycles, both by blocking passes and recovering loose pucks after a block or failed play, but he’s not nearly as involved defensively as he was two seasons ago, with his defensive puck touches dropping by nearly 40 per cent.

It’s possible that Eakin can still add a bit of defensive value to the Jets’ forward group, considering the injuries they’ve suffered and the generally poor defensive play of the team overall this season, but a hard minutes shutdown centre is not what he should be expected to be.

Another area where Eakin could help out his teammates is, despite his lack of point production, on offence. Eakin is involved in creating more scoring chances at even strength than the league average forward, with 6.54 offence-generating plays every 20 minutes being solidly in the top 40 per cent of all NHL forwards and, specifically, his ability to hit a pass to the slot is better than you would expect, with more than one every 20 minutes.

He doesn’t shoot a lot, but he has a sneaky accurate shot with over 70 per cent of his attempts from the slot hitting the net, and 68 per cent of his perimeter shots finding a way through traffic, as well. Those are among the most successful shot-attempt to shot-on-net conversion rates in the league.

Eakin also isn’t afraid to drive the net, recovering 1.16 rebounds in the offensive zone every 20 minutes at even-strength, which is in the top one per cent of all forwards.

Overall, this isn’t a game-changing acquisition by the Jets, and Eakin has his fair share of weaknesses, but for a conditional pick in the middle of the draft, bolstering the Jets’ depth just enough to push them into the playoffs sounds like a pretty solid bit of work to me.

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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