By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 11:38 PM
NASHVILLE - Coach Bruce Boudreau noticed early on during official workouts that one young prospect wasn't content to simply enjoy his time at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and accept any preconceived conclusion that he couldn't stick with the Washington Capitals this season.
In the two weeks since rookie camp opened, Cody Eakin has been all business. He knew coming in that he might be a long shot to reach the NHL at the start of this season, but he has demonstrated poise beyond his 19 years with his work ethic. Veteran teammates are impressed with how rapidly he is adjusting as he tries to give the Capitals every reason to consider not sending him back to junior hockey.
"Something's gone right so far; I'm still here," Eakin said before the Capitals defeated the Nashville Predators, 2-1, Saturday night in their second preseason game. "But I know if I don't perform I could be sent home tomorrow, so I just keep working hard. It's nice to do well now, but this is rookie season in my mind. I want to be here for the regular season. It's all a steppingstone."
The quick-footed center, easily identifiable by both his speed and the red hair sticking out from his helmet, has done a thorough job of helping observers forget that he is still a teenager. But his age gives him a remaining year of eligibility in the junior hockey leagues, and complicates his chances to land in Washington.
The NHL's collective bargaining agreement prohibits Eakin, because of his age, from playing with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League until his juniors season is complete. By all appearances, and considering his brief stint with the Bears late last year, Eakin would be ready for the AHL, but he has only two options: make the Capitals roster or be sent back to the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos, where he would be captain this season.
There is also the chance that Eakin could remain in Washington for a prolonged tryout of sorts. The three-year, entry-level contract Eakin signed in October 2009 could extend another year into the future if he is returned to juniors before playing 10 NHL games in a season.
Whether Eakin gets that opportunity though, comes down to his ability to continue improving against older, more physical players.
Boudreau said he hopes to see Eakin play several more preseason games.
"We'll see how he goes," Boudreau said. "He hasn't looked out of place, I'll tell you that. It's not like you can tell he's an 18- or 19-year-old; he's hung right in there. . . . His maturity, I think, is beyond his years, too, so that's really good."
During the 2009-10 season Eakin led Swift Current in points (91), goals (47), power-play goals (17) and short-handed goals (4). When he joined Hershey for four late regular season games and five playoff games after the Broncos' season ended, he recorded two points and gained critical experience in learning how to play against stronger opponents at a faster pace.
Eakin also proved his willingness to play wherever necessary when with Hershey, as Bears Coach Mark French played him most often on the wing during the Calder Cup playoffs. In training camp and preseason games this fall however, Eakin is back at center, his natural position.
"Actually, I don't mind playing on the wing. For my game it can be fun to streak down the wall and pick up passes at full speed, but I like center," said Eakin, who won six of the 12 faceoffs he took against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a win in the preseason opener. "I like taking draws, I like the position. It's a real responsible job."
Capitals notes: Against Nashville, goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Dany Sabourin combined to stop 20 of 21 shots they faced in a physical, offensively limited contest. Jay Beagle scored the game-winner for the Capitals on a one-timer from the slot after Keith Aucoin sent him a crisp pass from behind the net. Mike Green led with two points, a power-play goal and secondary assist on Beagle's goal. . . .
Washington assigned goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman Patrick Wellar to Hershey. The Bears' training camp opens Monday.