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2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: Lars Eller

The oft-maligned forward was subject to much criticism this past season, some fair, some unreasonable.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Lars Eller is in an interesting situation. Despite providing an invaluable service to the Canadiens in the defensive aspect of the game, most fans seem to be frustrated with his limited offensive production.

Sound familiar? It should, seeing as Tomas Plekanec went through almost the exact same unreasonable criticism early in his career.

The fact of the matter is playing a defensive role in the NHL is not conducive to scoring goals, and Michel Therrien has quickly shifted course to using Eller to take care of the defensive zone duties that Plekanec previously performed.

2014-2015 Review

Eller 10-game CF% condensed

2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Eller on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On IceCharts created by Spencer Mann.

Eller had a rough start to the season. There's no denying that. He only managed one goal in the first 11 games, while averaging roughly 14 minutes of ice time per game. He also went through a 14-game scoreless streak in January, despite producing above-average Corsi-for percentages. Simply put, like most players in the NHL, Eller had an inconsistent year.

It didn't help that he rarely had steady linemates. His most consistent stretch saw him play 13 games alongside Brandon Prust and Jiri Sekac, which was cut short when Eller suffered an upper-body injury. Following his return, he was also continuously shifted between the wing and centre positions.

eller linemates

(click for a larger version of the game chart)

To be fair to the coach, whenever a player is struggling to produce, the logical move is to shift him around in the lineup, in the hopes of finding chemistry with another player. That being said, it certainly couldn't have helped his confidence, and once a player loses confidence it's generally followed by poor play.

Despite that continuous line shuffling, and only 36 minutes of power play time, Eller still managed to score 15 goals, good for fifth among all forwards.

While it wasn't a breakout season, it can't be qualified as a disappointing year either.

2015-2016 Projection

Eller projection

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic GalaminiCalculation procedure

All signs point to a better offensive year from the Dane, and considering how he only hit the score sheet 27 times in 77 regular-season games, it's not an unreasonable assessment. Although we have to keep in mind that the crux of the defensive responsibilities will once again be thrust upon Eller, and so we shouldn't expect  major upswing in offensive production.

With Alex Galchenyuk sliding into the centre depth chart, Lars Eller now finds himself with an uncertain future, seeing as how some are projecting David Desharnais to maintain his position down the middle.

If we're looking at the situation logically, it's beyond obvious that Desharnais can't handle defensive duties, and the role Eller plays for the Canadiens would likely overwhelm the diminutive forward.  If the Habs hope to maintain offensive production from Plekanec, while giving Galchenyuk an opportunity to play in his natural position, there's no one else in the lineup that can suit the third line role.

Essentially, there should be no doubt that Eller is the best man for the job.

At age 26, Eller will be entering the prime of his career. If he can provide a reliable presence on the third line throughout the year, it should be considered a successful season. Of course, if he finally receives a decent quantity of powerplay opportunities and an upgrade in quality of his wingers, we may see him reach 20 goals next season.