The Penguins are going “Back to the Future” with defenseman Mark Eaton playing the role of Marty McFly.
Pittsburgh signed their former employee to a one-year, $725,000 contract Monday afternoon. Eaton had been with the team for the past week on a non-roster tryout basis. Apparently, Penguins management and coaches liked what they saw from the veteran.
“What a difference a month has made, going from not playing to signing with Pittsburgh,” Eaton said. “It’s been a whirlwind. It’s the game you love and you’d do anything for it.
“It feels great. It’s a great organization, first class. To be back to see all the familiar faces and be a part of a winning team, I’m excited to be back.”
The Penguins now have eight defensemen on their roster. It isn’t clear yet what Eaton’s role will be with the team. He could serve as an everyday blueliner or a spot guy to fill in here and there. Those decisions will need to be made by the coaching staff as the season progresses.
But one thing is for sure. When Eaton does get in the lineup, you’ll know what to expect. He is still the same type of player from his Penguins days – four seasons from 2006-10 – a steady, positionally-sound, defensive defenseman.
“They know what they’re getting with me,” Eaton said. “I’m just going to work hard and contribute anyway that I can.”
Eaton is in the twilight of his NHL career, which has spanned 12 seasons and four cities (Philadelphia, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Long Island). At this juncture, Eaton is elated to be a part of the team, and for one final run at championship glory.
After arriving for his first non-roster practice with the Penguins, Eaton jokingly told the media, “I just want to play. I would play for free, but I don’t think that’s allowed.”
It isn’t about the money. Or the fame. It’s only about the love of the game.
It’s that attitude and mentality that makes Eaton such a valuable commodity among the team. Here’s a player that has done and experienced it all – including a Stanley Cup title in ’09 and a frustrating Cup defeat in ’08. Eaton loves the game and his enthusiasm, work ethic and veteran wisdom will rub off on his teammates, especially the younger players like Beau Bennett, Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo.
“Whatever is asked of me, I’m willing to do,” Eaton said. “Competition is always healthy. If I can push those guys and make them better, help them out along the way, whatever it takes.”
Before joining the Penguins, Eaton played six games for their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He posted one assist with WBS before arriving in Pittsburgh to show his stuff.
Eaton’s work ethic has always been his biggest asset. He isn’t the biggest defenseman at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. He isn't the fastest player, nor the flashiest. But Eaton's been able to overcome all of them for a fruitful NHL career. So it should be no surprised he worked his way from a tryout with WBS to a roster spot with Pittsburgh.
And now he’s got a new life with a new team – a new-old team. For Eaton, this is a new beginning, not the end of the road.
Roads? Where he’s going, he doesn’t need roads.
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