Like many players, Detroit Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves’ current gig as a grinder and penalty killer hasn’t always been his role.
Eaves, a Boston College product and Hobey Baker Award finalist, was drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators as a scoring winger.
He didn’t disappoint during his rookie year, popping in 20 goals in just 58 games. But as injuries, in particular concussions, derailed Eaves’ career path, his production took a drastic hit.
“I started off in a role to score goals, and a couple of years later my role changed, and I enjoyed that, too,” Eaves said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’d love to score goals, but if I have to stop goals, too, that’s fine. I don’t mind.”
After being traded to the Boston Bruins from the Carolina Hurricanes – where he spent two mediocre seasons – prior to the 2009-10 campaign, he was waived and subsequently picked up by the Red Wings.
Eaves proved his worth as an energy player for Detroit and was rewarded with a one-year contract extension after the season. He also scored 12 goals, the most since his second year with Ottawa when he lit the lamp 14 times.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, Eaves was expected to continue his penalty killing prowess. But when injuries hit Detroit hard for the second season in a row, Eaves was thrust into a more offensive role.
Although he didn’t spend much time on the power play last season, Eaves took advantage of his opportunities scoring two goals with the man advantage. His one-timer from the slot gave the Red Wings something they haven’t seen since the Brett Hull days, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Eaves scored 13 goals in total last season and signed a three-year, $3.6 million extension to stay in Detroit.
“I knew when I re-signed here I would be playing with great players,” Eaves said. “It wouldn’t matter what line I was playing. That’s a big reason I came back.”
But coach Mike Babcock seems to have noticed Eaves’ scoring ability, as he penciled him in on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Dan Cleary during training camp this week.
“Patty can shoot the puck,” Babcock said. “He’s played on our fourth line, a little bit on the power play if someone got hurt, been a penalty killer.
“He’s become a leader in the weight room and the locker room with his commitment to doing things right. He’s kind of like a coach, the way he thinks the game. If he shoots the puck in the net enough, maybe he can play there (with Datsyuk and Cleary).”
Eaves has enjoyed the opportunity to play with offensive players in a scoring role.
“You can play here with anyone and anyone will be great,” Eaves said. “Then there’s another level with Pavel. I’m just trying to get used to playing with those guys. It’s a little different. Bear (Cleary) is fun to play with. He does things the right way. It’s just been fun trying to get used to it. It’s cool, a great opportunity, and I’m going to enjoy it.”
If Eaves can regain his scoring knack from early in his career, the Red Wings will enjoy it, too.