The Vegas Golden Knights opened the season without an important part of their arsenal, third-line center, Cody Eakin. Since his return, he hasn’t been the same contributor that the team expected.
Eakin was unable to start the season with his teammates due to an upper-body injury. As a result of his absence, Tomas Nosek made his way into Gerard Gallant’s lineup. When Eakin returned, Nosek managed to retain his spot in the middle of the fourth line, but Brandon Pirri was relegated to the press box.
Haunted by a Fantom Call?
Last season, Eakin proved to be more than just a tough two-way player. He managed to also delight fans by also finding twine more consistently than ever. Eakin had a career year, exceeding the 20-goal mark for the first time. He scored 22 goals and added 19 assists for a total of 41 points in 78 games.
That player seems to have disappeared. Ever since Eakin was wrongly accused of a series changing high stick on Joe Pavelski, he hasn’t been the same.
One may recall last year’s playoffs, when Eakin was ejected on a five-minute major penalty, allowing the San Jose Sharks to take over the game and eliminate the Golden Knights. It turned out that Eakin cross-checked Pavelski causing him to fall into Paul Stastny, but Eakin’s stick never touched Pavelski’s head.
Eakin came off the injured reserve this season after the team played the first four games without him. They were 2-2 in that stretch. When he returned, his presence allowed Gallant to add more depth to his lines. As such, the team has managed to win more than they’ve lost.
With their 28-year-old center back on the third line, Vegas is 6-3-2. Eakin was a dismal minus-four in October and has started November minus-two in the sole game the team has played. He also has yet to score a goal this season.
The Golden Knights have a much more potent offense when Eakin is a weapon they can deploy. He has only recorded points in one game this season. In that Halloween night game, against the Montreal Canadiens, he picked up two assists but also went minus-two. The Knights are surely disappointed with the very slow start.
Vegas Needs Eakin’s Scoring Touch
Currently, the Golden Knights are tied for ninth in the NHL in goals for, with 47 in 15 games. It’s a decent mark at five goals above the league average. However, they would like to be scoring even more. To do so would require their bottom-two lines to be greater contributors.
Should Eakin break out of his slump, the Golden Knights have the chance to be deadly. They would then have the potential to send three lethal lines at their opponents.
The Knights top-line features, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. Their second line is arguably, just as good. It sees Max Pacioretty, Stastny, and Mark Stone fly down the ice. That means Eakin is now playing with Cody Glass and Alex Tuch.
Tuch is an interesting linemate for Eakin. The 23-year-old had 52 points last season. He too was sidelined with an upper-body injury to start the season. Tuch wasted no time getting himself on the scoresheet, potting a goal in his first game back. He’s now skated in two contests.
Hopefully, Tuch’s presence not only gets Eakin going but enhances Glass’ game as well. Glass is playing his rookie season in the NHL after he was selected sixth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He has scored three goals and four assists in 15 games.
Should Eakin return to be the player he was just one season ago, it should help elevate the Golden Knights closer to the top of the league. They are currently seventh in Western Conference, but with three lines buzzing, Vegas could creep up the standings.
Eakin Could Cash In
There is more than just team success on the line this year for Eakin. He is playing in the final season of his four-year contract. Currently, Eakin is being paid $3.85 million with an AAV to match.
If Eakin could get out of his funk, stop gripping his stick so tight, and start scoring, he is sure to have multiple suitors at the conclusion of the season. There are millions of dollars on the line this season for Eakin.
Time will tell how the season plays out for Eakin and the Golden Knights, but he will be an interesting player to watch for the remainder of the year.
A former scout and referee turned writer, covering the game of hockey wherever it’s played.