This time last season the talk amongst the majority of Montreal Canadiens fans was whether trading Jaroslav Halak away, and keeping Carey Price was the right thing to do. We're one season removed and the disbelievers quickly hopped on the cowboy bandwagon.
In the mix of course was the acquisition of Lars Eller, rated the St. Louis Blues top prospect at the time of the trade. Eller's potential was clearly not over-sighted by our panel last season, as he held the No. 3 slot in our 2010 edition of The Top 25 U25.
Many wondered if Eller would manage to earn a spot with the big club last fall, and he did just that. The majority of his playing time was split between the third and fourth lines, prompting many to question whether or not he would be better suited to develop another year with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL.
Coach Jacques Martin felt he could learn more at the NHL level. Eller finished the regular season with 17 points (7goals and 10 assists). Nine of those points came in his final 24 games.
He played a solid seven-game series against the Boston Bruins, and was an effective shut down center, despite battling a shoulder injury that would require off-season surgery in the latter half of the series.
Early expectations had the 22-year-old missing training camp and possibly, the start of the season, but a recent report from La Presse's Marc-Antoine Godin has the Dane confident he will be at camp in September.
"Certainly I will be there from the start of camp. I will participate in some exercises, but I must take things as they come," Eller said.
Eyes will be on No. 81 this season, and many feel this could be a breakout season for him. He was also listed as of the three up and coming Habs players to watch in NHL.com's 30 in 30.
Strengths: Eller's size gives him a huge advantage. He stands at 6'1 and despite his shoulder recuperation, has managed to keep the muscle mass maintained. He put on 15 lbs in his summer rehab and workouts (hopefully not Guillaume Latendresse 15lbs) tips the scales just over 200lbs.
His play-making abilities and hockey sense were well noted in his pre-NHL career. Chris Boucher broke down the Habs top o-zone pressure makers and killers noting Eller led the team in both overall chances and positive scores. The downside was that he also led in lost battles in the o-zone, but given he would be matched against stronger opposition, his final risk/reward numbers fair better than Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez.
If Andrei Kostitsyn has a more typical AK46 season, it could make Eller centering the Habs 3rd line a lethal one offensively. The pair seemed to be getting some chemistry together as the season progressed, and will likely have David Desharnais or Mathieu Darche on the other wing.
Eller can also play a solid two-way game, both as a center and on the wing, and under Martin's system has managed to deter the critics of his defensive game. His learning curve still needs to grow in the neutral/defensive zones away from the puck, but it certainly paid off in the playoffs where he led the team in overall risk/reward.
Weaknesses: His shot isn't exactly NHL caliber, and LionsInWinter's Chris Topham noted his scoring instinct may be a bit suspect as some close chances were missed or opted out on. Yes he's deemed a play-maker, but he needs to attack when the opportunity arises. Eller's new found body mass will be put to the test as well for battles in the corners and in the crease area, as well as throwing out a few big hits.
Playing smart is also a big necessity for the young Dane in 2011-12. Many of his 48 penalty minutes (all minors) were ill-timed with 11 minors coming with under5 minutes remaining. When Eller made foolish plays, he learned his lesson by riding the pine.
Analysis: With Gomez and Plekanec set up in front of him, Lars Eller will have to be comfortable for some time being the Habs No. 3 center. Last season he saw little time on the power play, but a strong camp and start to the season should get him rewarded with more time with the man advantage and more overall TOI than the 11 minutes per game he saw last year.
The incentive of this being a contract year should also see him step up in 2011-12, with one fantasy projection putting him just into the 30 point range..
"Last year, my goal was to establish myself in the NHL. Now I have to bring my game to the next level and contribute more points offensively. I still believe that that’s how I’m most effective even if I didn’t get the chance to showcase it as much as I would have liked," explained Eller . "I plan to build on that performance this year. I’m hoping to get handed some more responsibility and some more ice time. I have to take things one step at a time, but my goal is to improve every element of my game." Lars Eller on canadiens.com
|#5: Nathan Beaulieu||#4: Lars Eller||#3: Max Pacioretty|