OTTAWA, ON — If you’ve read anything I’ve written or you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I am a huge Lars Eller fan. He does a lot of things really well, things that go unnoticed and thus are sometimes underappreciated by the fan-base.
From my perspective, he seems like a dream to coach. He never takes shifts off and plays each role Michel Therrien gives him with great pride and work ethic.
After spending the 2014-15 season as the teams third line and shutdown centre, he has been placed on the left wing to play alongside Alex Galchenyuk for 2015-16.
Placing Eller on the wing doesn’t mean he is an ineffective centre; in fact he thrived at the position last season. It wasn’t a knock against his game from the coach. In my opinion, Therrien moved Eller to the wing to support Galchenyuk in his new role. Therrien put faith and responsibility on the experience Eller has as a centre and his absurd amount of defensive prowess. Simply put, Eller was put on Galchenyuk’s wing to support him through his transition.
Centre is a demanding, hard position to play. It’s vastly different playing centre in junior, where skill level can vary drastically, than it is in the NHL. The level of competition in the NHL has never been higher. There’s a reason Therrien waited three seasons to move him into his natural position. Therrien was, and judging by some of his coaching decisions (mainly ice-time and zone-deployment), is still worried about Galchenyuk in the role.
Galchenyuk has had some growing pains at centre. In the Habs’ last game of 2015, Galchenyuk was caught napping behind Barkov while he scored his second of the evening to put the Panthers up by two goals in the third period. That shift came right after a furious back-check by Galchenyuk to break up an odd-man rush. Mistakes are bound to happen, and the good that comes with Galchenyuk far out-weighs the occasional mistake.
It’s been clear to me that over the last few weeks, while the Habs have tried to break their slump, Galchenyuk has been their best forward. Aside from the odd mishap, he’s been solid at both ends of the ice and creating more chances offensively than any other forward. It’s no surprise he is leading the team in points per 60 minutes at even strength (amongst players with a minimum of 10 games). Now, imagine if he put the puck on net more often instead of trying that extra move he tends to make!
With all this Galchenyuk talk, I bet you’re thinking I am about to suggest that Eller play centre over Galchenyuk, but that’s the furthest from the truth.
The centre position is crucial across all four lines and right now, Desharnais isn’t succeeding at the job like Eller can.
I’d like to see the Canadiens move Eller back to centre in exchange for Desharnais and here’s why…
Emergence of Carr
Eller isn’t a prolific goal scorer, although as I mentioned earlier, he does a lot of good things away from the puck that are helping Galchenyuk create space and offensive opportunities. So why split them up?
With the emergence of Daniel Carr and his ability to score goals, win puck battles and go to the dirty areas, it has put much less offensive pressure on Eller who is currently scoring 1.33 points per 60 minutes. That puts him behind players like Mitchell, Smith-Pelly, Fleischmann and yes, Dale Weise and David Desharnais.
Last season, playing centre with much-less offensively talented linemates, Eller was scoring 1.26 points per 60 minutes. This season is not a massive improvement despite a more favourable offensive role.
Furthermore, despite being deployed in the defensive zone much more often and facing stiffer competition, Lars Eller suppressed more scoring chances than David Desharnais last season. That trend has continued to this season; however, as I just stated, Eller’s deployment has become more favourable.
Desharnais Success at Wing
Now, I’ve never been a big Desharnais fan, but I hope we can all agree that he has looked terrible as of late. All Habs Editor-in-Chief, Rick Stephens sums up my frustration perfectly in his recap of Tuesday night’s game.
“Whether you rely on traditional stats, advanced stats or observational analysis, it was still difficult to adequately express just how poorly Desharnais played on Tuesday. The Canadiens top line centre failed to record a mark on the gamesheet (other than a losing faceoff record.) No goals, assists, shots on goal, missed shots or blocked shots. He was completely irrelevant to the game.
This pathetic performance was in spite of being given 15:06 in icetime including 3:06 of power-play time”
Last season, David Desharnais had a brief stint at the wing position and looked fantastic. Centreman have a lot of defensive responsibility in each zone and sometimes having an offensive minded centreman play the wing can benefit both the player and the team.
We have all seen Desharnais post strong offensive numbers in the past; perhaps giving him a real good look at the wing alongside Galchenyuk could help all involved. There’s no doubt that Desharnais can make swift, smart passes and it may just give Galchenyuk and Carr an added boost.
More importantly, with just two assists in 17 games, this could be what gets Desharnais going.
Ice-time for Galchenyuk
Another point Rick brings to light in his recap is Michel Therrien being out-coached night after night. Galchenyuk has out-performed David Desharnais virtually all season long, aside from the streaky start Desharnais-Weise-Fleischmann had. From my memory, Tuesday night marked the first game that Galchenyuk finished with more ice-time than Desharnais. It’s absurd that it took this long, and despite Desharnais’ lack of production and effort, he still managed over 15 minutes of ice-time.
As crazy as this may sound, and in no way am I suggesting that this is the best way to attribute ice-time, but an additional advantage of Desharnais playing with Galchenyuk is that Therrien may be more inclined to put Galchenyuk on the ice.
Not much to say in regards to face-offs other than puck possession plays a key role in the game of hockey and David Desharnais is only winning 47 per cent of his face-offs. Last season, Eller won 52 per cent.
Ability to Use Plekanec Line in O-zone
Last season Plekanec posted 60 points, one of the best offensive seasons of his career. The last time he reached the 60 point mark was 2009-10. The main reason for his offensive success was Eller took over his role as a shutdown centre. Plekanec no longer faced the opposition’s top-line talent, which opened up his game to provide offensive help.
With Eller moving from centre to wing this season, Therrien has reverted back to relying heavily on Plekanec as a defensive centre. With Plekanec centring Pacioretty for much of the season, Montreal’s best goal scorer is being ineffectively deployed by his coach more often in the defensive zone.
It’s rare to come across a defensive talent like Eller at the centre position. It’s time Therrien start using him like one again so that the offensive prowess of the team can once again shine through. David Desharnais is one of Michel Therrien’s favourite player’s. Until Therrien’s time as coach is up, we all have to get use to seeing Desharnais on the ice in key situations. One thing we haven’t seen yet is Desharnais, Galchenyuk, Carr.
What do you think about moving Eller to centre and Desharnais to wing?