It wouldn't be appropriate to say that Lars Eller is looking to have a comeback season, as he broke out offensively last season, putting up first-line production in third-line minutes. But in a way, that's exactly how it feels. He doesn't need to rebound from poor play, but from a devastating injury caused by a horrific head shot delivered by Eric Gryba in the first game of the playoffs last season. Eller was unconscious in the air, and his face slammed into the ice as a result.
Eller missed the rest of that series, but stated that he was ready to play should there have been a sixth game. Whether he would have been allowed to play is another question entirely.
Eller's last season was a bizarre split, he had a high on-ice shooting percentage, collected points on more of the goals scored while he was on the ice than any other Habs player, but had a very low personal shooting percentage. This makes it tough to predict what an expected increase in ice time and quality of linemates will have Eller produce next season.
In the following graph, the blue line is Eller's even strength Fenwick percentage from 2010 to 2013, the red line is his team's even-strength Fenwick percentage without him on the ice, and the green line is Eller's offensive zone start percentage, giving us insight into his usage and role. All statistics are at even strength, and all are rolling ten-game averages. What this means is that aside from the first 10 points in the graph, every point represents a 10-game sample, giving us a better grasp of trends.
With all that information on one graph, it can look a little messy and be tough to decipher, so I've included trend lines for each statistic. To understand the trend lines, blue turns into black, red turns into yellow, and green turns into purple. The x-axis is simply the games to represent time, and the y-axis is the percentage in decimal form, and the placement of the y-axis is the beginning of the 2013 season.
You've definitely got to click the link for this one, and maybe even zoom in on the imgur link to see where the black and purple trend lines separate.
Eller's career thus far is a tale of two usages. When he was first acquired, he was sheltered very heavily and produced excellent possession numbers, even though he wasn't producing much offense. As his defensive acumen was recognized by Jacques Martin, he was transitioned into a secondary tough minutes role to ease some of the load on Plekanec, and he performer well there too.
The trend line for his performance is pulled down artificially by the Randy Cunneyworth era, but in doing so we can see a very interesting note on Eller, that his possession statistics correlate extremely well with his zone starts.
The caveat is that until the middle stages of the shortened 2013 season, Eller was playing mostly with 4th liners and other plugs, so this may not show his true possession talent in a flattering way, but it does show that he can play tough minutes without being obliterated, and perform well in an exploitation role.
It's been commented on this site before that Eller's versatility is his downfall. Desharnais can't play the defensive minutes, so Eller does, therefore Eller doesn't get the offensive opportunities. Desharnais can't play on the penalty kill, and Eller happens to be fantastic there, so Desharnais gets the powerplay time and Eller plays more defense. They are logical decisions to keep the team in the strongest position possible, but they aren't always beneficial for Lars. Yet he never complains, and keeps working hard.
This season it seems as though Eller will be starting with skilled linemates for the first season of his NHL career, on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. On paper that line seems to have the perfect balance of speed, intensity, playmaking, defensive ability, and puck retrieval, and last season they were absurdly dominant. Still though, I hesitate to predict too much of a coming out party for Eller because of the balanced top-nine, and the hesitance of Therrien to over-rely on the young players. If Eller gets a bump in ice time to around 16 minutes per game, even without powerplay time, he should be around 18 goals and 50 points, but getting over that 50 point margin is going to require being on the PP, something that isn't guaranteed.