Ben Eager’s career began as a first round draft pick, chosen No. 24 by the Phoenix Coyotes back in 2002, ahead of the likes of Jarret Stoll, Alex Steen and elite defenceman Duncan Keith.
Five NHL organizations and 407 games later, it appears Eager’s career will end in the Kontinental Hockey League, where Sportsnet learned Eager has signed a deal for the coming season. Sources say Eager’s new contract is with CSKA Moscow. It marks the end of a career that never quite panned out the way many scouts thought it might, when the strapping Ottawa native with a powerful stride and bullet wrist shot came out of the Oshawa Generals a decade ago.
With the physical tools possessed by Eager, 30, he may go even higher if he were in the 2014 draft. He is 6-foot-2, 235 pounds and skates as well as any fourth-line banger in the game.
But Eager’s movement from team to team belies his inability to think the game, or earn the trust of his various coaches. Ken Hitchcock extracted some of Eager’s best hockey when he coached him in Philadelphia, giving the big winger a simple, clearly defined role, and Joel Quenneville also used him well during Chicago’s Stanley Cup run in 2010.
Eager signed a three-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers on July 1, 2011, but a series of concussions mitigated his ability to play the tough, intimidating game the Oilers had hoped for. Injuries limited Eager to 14 NHL games in Year 2 of the deal, and this past season the Oilers relegated him to their American Hockey League affiliate for all but seven NHL games. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.