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BUFFALO — Cody Eakin didn’t grow up dreaming about suiting up with the hometown Jets.
No such animal existed during his formative years in Winnipeg.
"They left when I was what, five?" he said, looking for an answer from reporters surrounding him in a pre-game chat Sunday. "(The Jets) were always an icon, but (I) never had that personal connection growing up and watching them."
'This is the best time of year to play hockey and to be here in the fight is something I love to do'‐ Cody Eakin
Indeed, the Jets bolted for the Arizona desert in 1996 when Eakin was just starting elementary school but returned to the Manitoba capital 15 years later as a new incarnation, while he was establishing himself as a pro within the Washington Capitals organization.
"They came back in my first year pro, so I remember in Hershey (of the AHL) I was watching that first game and you could feel it through the TV, the electricity in the city and how proud they are of their team," he said. "It should be fun coming home, and a fun one to start (Sunday)."
Eight seasons and 578 NHL games later, with stops in Dallas and Las Vegas, Eakin is wearing Jets white and blue. The 28-year-old centre was acquired from the Golden Knights on Friday afternoon for a conditional third-round draft pick in 2021.
Eakin made his Winnipeg debut against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon, and his presence was felt in a disappointing 2-1 loss. He finished checks, displayed an active stick and knocked down several pucks, including one he chased down and fired low and hard that goalie Jonas Johansson got a pad on. He also helped erase three Sabres power plays.
He tossed around his 6-0, 185-pound frame, finishing with a team-leading four hits and six of 11 at the faceoff dot.
"A little jittery at the start, but once the pace of the game starts going, you get right into it. Not the result (he wanted)," he said, after the game.
Eakin, a pending unrestricted free agent, was considered expendable by Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon as a means to open cap space for potential moves prior to today’s trade deadline, 2 p.m. CT.
"I don’t think you really see it coming but (you’re) somewhat prepared. Just the team and the cap and how that looks. Unfortunate to start, but excited about it now," he said.
The former Winnipeg Monarchs bantam star went on to play four seasons in the Western Hockey League, primarily with the Swift Current Broncos. He was selected in the third round (85th overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft.
Eakin has fired 102 goal and added 130 assists in his career. Traded to Dallas after just one season with the Caps, he spent five years with the Stars before being grabbed by Vegas in the expansion draft. He posted his most productive season a year ago, scoring 22 goals and setting up 19 others.
But his output dropped sharply this season — just four goals and six assists in 41 games. An upper-body injury that sidelined him for five weeks took a toll on his offensive contribution.
"Yeah, it’s been tough. Some ups and downs, some injuries. Tough to find my groove after that but I’ve gone through that before. This is the time of season you want to be playing and I’m feeling good and ready to rock," said Eakin, who’s had a couple of productive post-season runs before.
"Absolutely. This is the best time of year to play hockey and to be here in the fight is something I love to do. It makes it easy to get up for the games. It’s going to be a lot of fun," he said. "Some good battles and every point is going to matter from here on out."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
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