by Dan Kramer, Staff Writer, AllHabs.net

MONTREAL, QC — Since his being drafted just over two weeks ago, much of the talk around Montreal’s future at the center position has been about Alex Galchenyuk. Rightfully so, since the young man has the potential to be an elite player at the NHL level someday.  However, the hype around him has led to a disturbing trend among some fans on Twitter and on hockey forums around the internet: a total disregard for a promising 23-year old pivot already on the roster in Lars Eller.

Image by Dan Kramer | AllHabs

It is true that many hoped for more than Eller’s 28 points in 79 games a year ago, but his production was hampered when the line he was most successful on – with Travis Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn, the team’s second most used line over the course of the entire season – was disbanded due to injuries and eventually the Kostitsyn trade.  The line Eller played on second most frequently last season?  Centering Mike Blunden and Blake Geoffrion, two players likely to start the coming season in the American Hockey League.  Under those circumstances, his 16 goals actually look like quite an accomplishment.

Eller brings a lot to the table.  A 13th overall selection in 2007, he flashes hands that at times make him look like the best stickhandler on the team, has a solid frame which he uses to protect the puck, and is a responsible two-way player.  His style isn’t unlike that of Peter Forsberg, though Eller lacks the vision and playmaking ability that made the Swede such a force offensively.  Yet, while one portion of the fanbase clamoured for him to receive the same kind of opportunity as David Desharnais, being put between two legitimate top six wingers, others have seemingly moved on.  I’ve seen it suggested in recent days that Eller be virtually dumped, traded for whatever assets Montreal may be able to pick-up, or else moved to wing, where he has looked out of place in the NHL.

Most who see his days with the team as numbered are looking to create space for Galchenyuk to make the club this Fall, feeling like another year in junior will not benefit him, and that he can help the team immediately.  We won’t know until at least training camp – if not well beyond – how much Galchenyuk could contribute to the club this very season, but it should be pointed out that being sent back down for another season will certainly not hurt his development.  His year would look like the following:

  • Return to Sarnia, being the key cog in the team’s offense and playing without Nail Yakupov for the first time
  • Play for Team USA at the World Junior Championships
  • Help an underdog Sting team with a playoff push, or be dealt to a contender
  • Should his junior season end early, join a deep Hamilton Bulldogs squad in the post-season to challenge for a Calder Cup
Image by Dan Kramer | All Habs

It doesn’t matter how highly regarded a prospect one is; that kind of a year won’t throw off anyone’s path towards the NHL, particularly when we’re talking about a player who played only eight games all of last season.  There is no need to rush him to the big league.  This isn’t a season where he is stepping in as the final piece to put together a contending club.  I’m not suggesting the team be closed-minded – let him come to training camp and do his best to earn at least a 9-game tryout.  But the club will have to be awfully certain that he will remain at an adequate level to hold down a top nine center job all season long, and that they aren’t wasting an asset in Eller, for him to remain up with the team.  The worst thing that could happen – after a decision to keep him – would be for his play to trail off at around the 30- or 40-game mark, not unthinkable for a rookie who played so little last season.  You can’t sit him in the press box.  And you’ve already burned one year towards unrestricted free agency, plus a year of his reasonable entry-level contract.

But enough about Galchenyuk, on whom there will be much focus in September.  This piece is about Eller and where his career is headed.  Michel Therrien was pretty open in his initial press conference about planning to start out keeping Desharnais between Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty.  If the Canadiens don’t add another forward via free agency or the trade market, this likely means Tomas Plekanec centering Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta as a second line.  We’re then left with Travis MoenColby ArmstrongBrandon PrustScott Gomez, and perhaps one of Louis LeblancBrendan Gallagher, or Aaron Palushaj as wingers for Eller.  Many have strung together a trio of Moen – Eller – Armstrong, in part due to a potential clash between the similar puck-carrying style of Eller and Gomez, and an uncertainty as to whether any of Leblanc, Gallagher, or Palushaj will be impressive enough to start the year with the Canadiens.

This scenario wouldn’t be an issue.  If Armstrong stays healthy, it is a two-way, crash and bang line, that might be similar to the trio on which Eller was most effective last season.  Speaking of that line, Andrei Kostitsyn remains an unrestricted free agent, and so perhaps repatriating him to join that line is something Marc Bergevin is still considering.

Other scenarios could include a good training camp from Scott Gomez, or a poor one from Rene Bourque.  Having Gomez center Eller on a third line would seem like a mistake; forcing Eller into an uncomfortable position to accommodate a player who isn’t part of any long-term plans.  However, Eller did have success playing on the wing on an offensive line at the World Championships last season, so giving him a look in a top 6 role with Plekanec and Gionta isn’t unthinkable.

A final possibility would be a less productive year from David Desharnais, since opposing defenses will now be keying on the small center from day one.  Though he isn’t the guy you want battling along the boards, taking some responsibility away from him by shifting him to the wing might also open up a top 6 hole for Eller to fill.

If put in a situation to succeed, what might Eller become?  Certainly the Forsberg comparison wasn’t meant to suggest he has similar upside.  A more realistic comparison might be found on the Canadiens’ roster, as a bigger Tomas Plekanec type.  Plekanec himself is considered by some a “poor-man’s” Pavel Datsyuk, which isn’t a bad model either, considering the soft and quick hands Eller has displayed, though again Datsyuk’s vision is far superior.   Still, don’t think that Eller’s first two seasons at very young ages indicate he doesn’t have offensive potential close to a Plekanec’s.  He simply is doing his learning, maturing, and strengthening at the NHL level where Datsyuk and Plekanec did it in other leagues.  Here’s a chart to compare.

Lars Eller Tomas Plekanec Pavel Datsyuk
1st Year in North America Age 20 Age 20 Age 23
Age 20 7 GP – 2-0-2 AHL Russia
Age 21 77 GP – 7-10-17 2 GP – 0-0-0 Russia
Age 22 79 GP – 16-12-28 Lockout (AHL) Russia
Age 23 2012-13 67 GP – 9-20-29 70 GP – 11-24-35
Age 24 2013-14 81 GP – 20-27-47 64 GP – 12-39-51

A big part of the Canadiens’ future may lie in the hands of Alex Galchenyuk, but it is for Lars Eller that this season must be a coming of age.  Signed to a bargain $1.325M cap hit for each of the next two seasons, I expect a jump in production from Eller this year if put in the right situations, establishing him as a 40+ point potential third line guy, in line with the production of a Plekanec at age 24 or at least a Datsyuk at 23.  If and when he achieves this, center depth of Galchenyuk – Plekanec – Eller (pending how Desharnais fares this season) for 2013-14 will be the most impressive looking group the Habs have had down the middle in quite some time.

 

SHARE
Previous articleHeadlines: Ranford, Marcoux, Hagel, Robinson, Diaz
Next articlePlaying Hockey for Food
Profile photo of Dan Kramer
Dan was raised with a love for the Habs since his grandfather was a close friend of Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, and others of that era. But he only became a diehard in his own right during the 1993 Stanley Cup run. If it is a fact regarding the Canadiens between then and now, he probably knows it. Dan loves to read or watch anything and everything about his team, and started a blog to share his knowledge, a mission he hopes to continue in joining the All Habs team. Outside of hockey, he is a Toronto (via Montreal) marketing and business professional who recently completed an MBA from McGill University.
  • don

    Super write up Dan.

    I have high hopes for both Eller and Leblanc this fall, of any coming to camp.
    As Rick Dudley says, should simply expect Galchenyuk to go back to junior (which he will). Especially with full roster at forward with no need of a kid on a rebuilding team (with an Alaskan as 13th forward already)
    Both Louis and Lars will be bigger/stronger after a full summer of training and no shoulder-rehabbing/missing training camp.
    Missing training camp “is said” to really hamper offensive guys seasons, and if 16 goals on a shitty team is the worst we can expect, 40 points should be an easy target for him.
    And given that both Louis and Lars simply needed more strength and Louis has been working on his skating hard for a few weeks already, i expect big things.

    I think Armstrong will be in a battle for 3rd line winger with both Gallagher and Leblanc.

    Armstrong may get a shot at start of season due to vet status and new Mgmt went out of way to sign him, but Leblanc and Gallagher will be there if he falters/gets injured.
    I think Eller will be a super #2 centre sooner than later and if DD or Tomas gets injured, he may finally get a crack at having two good offensive wingers and he will do well i bet.

    Have no fear Dan, Lars aint written off by all Hab fans.

  • redgerrymander

    Great write-up. My guess,depending on when Galchenyuk makes the show, is that Pleks gets traded. He’s both the most valuable and trade-able of the team’s forwards.

    DD will either continue to impress or implode.
    Gomez is gone and has little value in a trade
    Eller is the new Pleks. Defensively responsible, and as you mention, no slouch on the offense side.

    My guess is that he’s also the only player who’ll bring an experienced Top-6 forward back to Mtl.

  • I absolutely love Eller and I am getting quite tired of people forgetting about him or purposely throwing him to the curb. Long-term, I see Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Eller down the middle – if only people would stop trading Plekanec in their stupid video game proposals. I know there are fans attached to the 1 season Desharnais has had success between the best power forwards on the team but they need to face the music, DD should not be long-term here. Also, Eller can play the PK, he’s defensively responsible and he should get a long look on the PP as well. Give the kid a chance to succeed and then we will see something.

    There was some chemistry I do recall with Leblanc-Eller-Moen too

  • michel

    Let`s not forget that Lars had his first season in north america as a 20 year old and finished top scorer on his team with 57 points.Let`s be patient and see what he can do with a couple of offensive wingers such as Leblanc,Gallanger and Armstrong.lets face it,he didn`t exactly get any breaks with last years linmates.

  • redgerrymander

    What I don’t get is the lack of vision thing. I swear that on at least 5 occasions last season I saw Eller dish Moem what would have been easy goals for anyone but concrete hands. (and that’s after how many assists by Eller on the ones he managed to deflect in).

    Personally, I’d love to see how he’d do between our best two wingers for a game or two. He passes, protects and fights well along the boards and I’m sure he could dish a few pucks to the likes of Patches and Cole that might dribble in.

    • It’s not that Eller’s vision is a weakness, but players like Forsberg and Datsyuk are elite in that regard. While he has a similar style game, he isn’t on their level.

      Eller’s forte offensively is more puck and stickhandling than setting others up.

      • redgerrymander

        I don’t necessarily disagree but you’re theory hasn’t really been tested with quality wingers in an offensive vs. shutdown role. Maybe you’re right, but it’s hard to tell without giving the kid a shot.

        • Eller has an underrated shot (that he should probably use more) but his real talent is as a very-skilled play-maker. He has great hockey sense combined with the size and puck-handling ability to manoeuvre in traffic dishing accurate passes to his line-mates. His point total has been limited by the lack of scoring skill among his line-mates (and lack of ice-time and power-play opportunities.) It would be exciting to see what Eller could do with Cole and Pacioretty — the line would be dominant.

          • redgerrymander

            Which leads to the question why it hasn’t been tried?

          • neumann103

            Look at the first (i think) goal from his 4 goal game. The release on the shot is incredible. He doesn’t always deploy it, and sometimes he appears to be overthinking, but when he does commit, the shot comes out of nowhere and is in the back of the net before you know it.

            I believe Eller has to play Center to be most effective, but I would try him on Plekanec’s left wing on the power play, especially if Moen and Prust are there to take some of the PK minutes.

  • dra58

    Eller is the real deal and probably the only thing Goat did for this team in his tenure. Lars will thrive if given people who can keep up with him as Pleks has done in the past as well. Virtually everyone on the team outside of the 1st line were left to fend for themselves with the worst matchmaking since the game show by similar name. How about a novel approach of Eller between Pleks and Gionta. Pleks faceoff skills are not really any better than Ellers and Lars is younger and will only get better with more opportunities. Lars needs the confidence of the coaching staff and be put in a posistion to excel or we will wind up giving him away for nothing and watching him bloom elsewhere like many other young players have. I think MB and staff are not inclined to make similar mistakes of the previous regime and will eee what many of us see “A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH”. His upside is limited only by his co-stars on his wing so let’s allow him the chance to see what most of think he can do and be a great number 2 center for many years to come. I do not want want to loose Pleks yet either so let’s try sliding him to wing and see how he fares. The plus side you have 2 face-off men on the ice in the advent of one being tossed from the face-off circle. After last year what is there to loose as nobody but the first line should be safe together and let’s think outside the box in the preseason. That is where these things should be tried anyway so have at it.

  • Raggnor777

    Lars Eller,

    My girlfreind and I watch every single Habs game and Eller is by far one of my favorite player on the team. He is big,has great hands and is one of the fastest skaters on the team. All years we were hearing the damn critics on his game from a sports brodacaser we wont name (they show all the games in french…), saying he makes to many mistakes. Damn the kid is playing with junk and low minuites and is still producing, I have never seen him take a night off and he almost always comes out of the corner with the puck.

    You can shoot me for saying this but replace Deharnais for him and see what happens….By the way Deharnais has great vision, but is moved away from the puck consistently because of his 60pound frame. If he woulden’t be french, I would trade him on the spot while his value is semi-high, but I know the fans would throw a hissy fit.

    Eller is a prefect 2nd line center and I think has more upside than Plecks.

    Thanks for reading.

  • legendaryprice

    i really think mb should trade plek,ellis and palusha for bobby ryan! keep eller at 3 center and bring galchenyuk to number 2!

  • legendaryprice

    continued…….. galchenyuk gionta ryan, patches davyd cole, eller leblanc moen, prust armstrong white

  • J.S. Belanger

    Hey Dan, just got around to this article now. A quick, unofficial, attempted-non-biased research i conducted tells me this:

    Most offensive players in today’s (post lockout) NHL do not become significantly better than at the age of 23. This means, in most cases, the stats achieved by an offensive player at the age of 23 will usually not fluctutate much for the next “prime” 5-7 years (< 10%). Of course, there are exceptions (Kesler) but for the most part, this stat seems to hold true.

    Therefore, this season will likely tell us quite a bit about the type of player Eller will be for the next 5-7 years. Although i have seen some flashes of potential, I am a little pessimistic about the offensive results he can attain.

  • Pingback: Headlines: Gauthier, Radio, Doan, Nash, Rating Free Agency | All Habs Hockey Magazine()