One of the most common themes this season among Canadiens fans has been the crucifixion of Montreal's third line centre, Lars Eller.
At first glance, the abundance of criticism seems reasonable. Simply put, Eller is not producing. He has nine goals and eight assists this season, meaning he's on pace for one of the worst offensive seasons of his career.
The issue at hand is clearly not his defensive acumen. Eller has a well-deserved reputation for being a quality defensive player, consequently leading him to be deployed in such situations.
Michel Therrien leans on him, this much is clear. Eller only started 38.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He's often tasked with shadowing the opponent's best player, as we saw last night against the Kings and their perennial Selke candidate, Anze Kopitar.
Enough about his deployment, the problem at hand seems to be that he's not producing enough points. But what should we be realistically expecting from a third-line player that has seen an endless stream of new line mates throughout the season?
To get a better idea of some acceptable comparable players, I asked which players are generally considered 'typical quality third line centers".
I received a fair amount of suggestions, including several Tyler Bozak submissions from ornery Leafs fans, but a few names kept popping up, therefore I included them in the following comparison.
As you can see, the easier the zone starts, the higher the point production tends to be. Filppula leads the charge in terms of offensive production, but he's clearly not used in a defensive assignment. His most common line mates this season have been Steven Stamkos, and Ryan Callahan.
Eller may not be breaking any scoring records, but when you consider his well-defined role as a true shutdown centre, it's perhaps time to temper our expectations when it comes to his offensive output.
There's no denying Eller is having a rough go when it comes to putting the puck in the net, however Therrien is not placing him in a position that would be considered conducive to scoring. Should the frustration be directed at the coach? I wouldn't say so. Not everyone can be given an abundance of offensive zone starts, or a plethora of powerplay time. Every team needs a strong shutdown player, and with Eller slowly taking over Tomas Plekanec's defensive duties, there appears to be no alleviation in sight when it comes to the oft-maligned Danish centre.
Montreal's scoring woes are well documented, but when you take a look at the big picture, it's probably naive to expect Eller to contribute as a top six player, especially when he's clearly used in a third line role. For some reason there's a half-baked expectation that he should be scoring 20 goals per season. Granted, he has all the tools to create that type of offense, but that's clearly not how he's being used.
Realistically, the Habs will have to look to the top two lines for offense, seeing as how they're given the offensive zone-starts & powerplay time that usually leads to scoring.
(note: due to the outage on the SB Nation Network this morning, I lost the vast majority of article. This is an abridged version, but it should still convey the desired message)