Shortly after the Capitals traded him 2012, he asked then-Capitals general manager George McPhee a simple question: What it is going to take for him to be a full-time player?
“Get an opportunity to play,” McPhee responded.
Nearly six years later, Eakin has been making the most of his latest opportunity, centering the third line for the Knights in the Stanley Cup finals against the team that drafted him.
Eakin’s NHL career started in 2009, when the Capitals took him in the third round of the entry draft. Now, the 27-year-old returns to Capital One Arena for Game 3, his first playoff game in Washington, and he’ll be sharing the ice with another former Capital, Nate Schmidt, who played for the team in the 2016 and 2017 postseasons.
Eakin, just like when he spoke to McPhee after being traded to Dallas, remains focused on the task at hand. That approach helped the 6-foot, 190-pounder establish himself as a bona fide NHLer with the Stars, tallying 61 goals and 85 assists while averaging 16:41 minutes of ice time over a five-year span. In the Stars’ 2014 and 2016 playoff runs he had a combined three goals and 10 assists.
“You just want an opportunity to play and I found one in Dallas,” Eakin said. “I guess at the time it was questioning what it was all about, but like I said I wanted a place to play and I found it in Dallas.”
McPhee didn’t forget about Eakin. And when Dallas exposed him the expansion draft, the Knights GM snatched him up.
“I didn’t know until the day [he was in danger of going to Vegas],” Eakin said. “Maybe a week before I was given a little, ‘There is a good chance you will [be taken],’ but other than that, I didn’t give it too much thought. You are trying to play and focus on your game and I’m happy I ended up here.”
Eakin has become an integral part of the Knights’ third line, centering Ryan Carpenter and Alex Tuch. Eakin’s regular season included 11 goals and 16 assists, and he has tallied three goals and one assist in the Knights’ run to the Cup finals.
His focus remains, as ever, on improving his play and making the most of his opportunities.
“We have a big task ahead of us and that is about it,” Eakin said.