It had been 384 days since Patrick Eaves last took an NHL shift, but the significance of him hopping over the boards Thursday night in Anaheim didn’t register with him at first. When the Ducks forward, who last played a game on Oct. 13, 2017, took his first two shifts, he received an extended ovation, which at first led him to believe a fight had broken out somewhere on the ice.
After overcoming effects of a post-viral syndrome, which was originally thought to be Guillain-Barré syndrome, that caused him to miss all but two games in 2017-18, and then undergoing shoulder surgery in the spring, Eaves was back in the lineup for Anaheim’s 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.
With his wife and children in the Honda Center stands, Eaves played a little over 10 minutes in the loss, a small bright spot for a team that had just lost its seventh straight game.
“It’s been a while. It was kind of everything (emotions wise),” Eaves said afterward. “It was a long road to get back here and there’s a ton of people that helped out. It was pretty cool to see all their hard work getting me back out there.”
As much as he wants to be up to speed already after missing over a year, Eaves knows it’s going to take time for him to re-adjust to the tempo of the NHL. He’s been skating for a while and started practicing with his teammates a few weeks ago, but game action is a much different pace.
“I felt better every shift,” he said. “You can’t simulate that game speed anywhere so you got to go out there and do it.”
Joining a team mired in a slump can’t be fun, but if Eaves is able to regain the form that has allowed him to hit double digits in goals four times since the 2014-15 NHL season, that will play a role in Anaheim’s attempt to turn things around.
“It was exciting to be out there, but I want to contribute and be a positive for the team,” Eaves said.
Holding himself to a high standard of play, he knows that his next challenge is bringing back the old Patrick Eaves. In the meantime, he’s happy to finally be playing hockey again after a hellish year.
“I had a blast out there,” he said.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.