The most telling sign that Patrick Eaves has truly fit in with the Ducks might have been off the ice.
A few weeks after Eaves arrived in Anaheim, he spoke in a postgame media scrum when teammate Sami Vatanen walked by and gently stroked Eaves’ bushy, mountain-man beard. It was a photo-ready moment that captured Eaves’ cheery impact on the Ducks. The beard is the hockey equivalent of a roadside attraction, grown since October 2015 and trimmed monthly, according to Eaves.
“I thought it would stop growing at a point,” he said. “But it just doesn’t stop growing.”
It’s no wonder a player who looks like Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant” led the Ducks out of the woods to solve their top-line puzzle.
Eaves is arguably the best trade-deadline addition in the NHL this season. He has been in lockstep with line mates Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell since his Feb. 24 arrival and helped the Ducks roll toward their first-round, best-of-seven playoff series against the Calgary Flames. Game 1 is Thursday at Honda Center.
Eaves, a depth player for most of his 12-year career, has 11 goals in 20 games with the Ducks and a career-high 32 goals this season. He finished sixth in the NHL with 13 power-play goals. From his bargain $1-million price tag at the deadline to his assimilation into the Ducks’ roster, it has worked all around.
“It’s hard coming in during the middle of the season, but he’s such a good guy, [I knew] he’d be appreciated by everybody from the get-go,” said Antoine Vermette, who played with Eaves with the Ottawa Senators before they were reunited in Anaheim.
“The style of hockey he plays is suitable for us. There’s people scouting him and there’s a reason why we went after him.”
Eaves is basically filling the role of Corey Perry, Getzlaf’s longtime line mate, in going to the net. Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle broke up Getzlaf and Perry in early February, partially to prod a then-struggling Perry. Two weeks later, the Ducks got Eaves, 32, from the Dallas Stars for a second-round draft pick that will become a first-round pick if the Ducks make it to the Western Conference finals.
The natural comparison in Ducks lore is Steve Thomas, a 39-year-old forward and deadline pickup who helped spark the team to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. Eaves, like Thomas, is an integral no-frills piece.
“He makes himself available in that critical area, and he does it unassuming,” Carlyle said. “He does it without a lot of bluster or whatever. When the puck’s on his stick, he finds ways to put the puck over the line.”
Eaves always has stuck his nose into the fray. Born in Calgary and raised in Faribault, Minn., he was taught different styles by his father, Michael — ironically a former Flames forward — but Eaves settled on one that involved taking abuse within 10 feet from the goal.
“I kind of figured it out early — the puck eventually goes there,” Eaves said. “I had an opportunity to get to the net this year with players getting it there. It’s kind of an emphasis now because there’s some pretty goals scored, but there’s not a lot.”
Getting in front of the puck has had consequences. Eaves missed most of the 2011-12 season because of a concussion and broken jaw, suffered when he was hit by a slap shot from Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi.
To say he’s since transitioned well in his career is an understatement with a twist. The Ducks are his sixth NHL team, and he is teammates with guys who beat him in the 2007 Cup Final.
“It’s fun to see Getzy and Perry; how their game has grown in those 10 years,” Eaves said. “They’re still not fun to play against and it’s better to be on their team.”
Eaves said the Ducks’ makeup, a mix of veterans and kids, is the primary reason for the smooth conversion.
“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “They’ve explained things to me. All the guys have helped me when I’ve had questions, from off the ice and on the ice. It’s a tribute to the group here.”
Eaves is due to become a free agent this summer. If he re-signs, he might eventually uproot his wife, two daughters and son and bring them here. His kids are soccer players, and he’s teaching them what he knows: Go to the net.
“The ball’s going to go there eventually,” Eaves said.
He spoke with a knowing look, almost like a bearded sage.