2017-18 Player Review: Cody Eakin showed improvements but still has much to prove

The speedy ginger excelled in the faceoff circle and more than doubled his 2016-17 output, but the former Star is capable of more.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

Cody Eakin was Vegas’ expansion draft selection from the Dallas Stars, where he played five seasons after getting drafted by George McPhee and the Washington Capitals in the third round (85th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He was coming off a rather ugly 2016-17 campaign and was in desperate need of a fresh start. Though he did start the season as a member of Vegas’ top six, skating with James Neal and David Perron for the first month of the year, Eakin soon settled in to a third-line center role, where he remained for the rest of the season.

Season in review

Eakin scored 11 goals and 27 points in 80 games with the Golden Knights last season. Twenty-seven points for a third-line forward is not terrible, especially since he more than doubled his production from the year before in which he delivered a measly three goals and 12 points in 60 games. However, he still fell far short of tying his career-high points total of 40, and he was unable to hit 16 goals as he had done three years in a row prior to his 2016-17 dud.

That being said, Eakin played a predominantly defensive role for the Knights, which is why his 49.32 zone start ratio  at 5-on-5 was the fourth-lowest on the team among forwards. He finished second on the team in short-handed points (3), and his 52.1 faceoff winning percentage was second on the team among players who took at least 75 faceoffs; it was also the best rate among Vegas’ centers.

But Eakin’s possession stats were under 50 percent across the board. Specifically, he finished the regular season with a 47.96 Corsi For percentage, 48.82 Shots For percentage, 42.67 Goals For percentage, 49.07 Scoring Chances For percentage, 44.75 High-Danger Corsi For percentage and a 38.64 High-Danger Goals For percentage, which was the third-lowest percentage on the team among players who played in at least 10 games.

His goal share and high-danger goal share did improve significantly in the playoffs, though, going from 42.67 to 50 percent and from 38.64 to 60 percent, respectively. His high-danger corsi also rose from 44.75 to 46.43. Eakin did this while facing tougher competition and starting fewer shifts in the offensive zone (47.44). He only recorded four points in 20 postseason games, but his 54.89 faceoff winning percentage was the best on the team among players who took at least 20 draws.

Standout moment

Many of Eakin’s contributions to the Knights’ inaugural campaign wouldn’t exactly be considered “standout” plays. However, he made enough plays throughout the season to make you wonder why he can’t do it more often.

For example, his impressive three-point game (1, 2, 3) against Detroit in early March saw him score two goals and an assist in the same period, looking confident, comfortable and in control. He also made a memorable tape-to-tape bank pass to spring William Karlsson on a short-handed breakaway against St. Louis later that month.

But perhaps the most significant play of Eakin’s season was his game-tying goal in Game 3 against Los Angeles. The Knights held a 2-0 series lead and were trailing 1-0 in a critical game. A great shift culminated with Eakin lifting one over the diving Jonathan Quick to even up the game, a game the Knights eventually won, 3-2, to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.

KOI composite grade: C

Knights On Ice awarded Eakin a composite grade of C, with individual grades ranging from C- to B-.

The C seems like a fair assessment since Eakin’s season easily could be labeled as average. He did not exceed expectations, nor did he have a terrible year. He may not have hit the 30-point mark, but he still scored 27 points with an average of 12:28 of ice time per game with which to work, and he saw a significant improvement over his 2016-17 nightmare of a season. His possession numbers may have been drab, but he was a key faceoff guy for Vegas, winning 52.1 percent of his draws in the regular season and a team-high 54.89 percent in the playoffs. He was steady, relatively reliable and stepped up in the postseason. Is he capable of more? Yes. But did he have a decent year, all things considered? Yes.

An average grade for an average year.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Eakin has two years remaining on a contract that carries an average annual value of $3.85 million. While many pegged the 27-year-old native of Winnipeg, Manitoba as an offseason buyout candidate, it seems he’ll remain in Vegas for the year, especially since Gerard Gallant has shown great confidence and trust in his defensive game.

Eakin’s actual role in the lineup is somewhat up in the air. The first- and fourth-line center positions are pretty much locked up for Karlsson and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, respectively, but it’s unclear who will be the middle-six pivots. Regardless, Eakin likely will remain on the third line; he’s usually strictly a center, and his faceoff ability is an asset to the Knights, but it’s still technically possible he could shift to the wing to play alongside Erik Haula or, theoretically, Paul Stastny. However, the odds suggest he’ll retain his third-line center position in 2018-19. He has the potential to see an uptick in production, especially if he has some skilled forwards on his line, but don’t expect any remarkable changes in his game.

How would you grade Eakin’s 2017-18 performance?