Considered a pittance of a return to Jaroslav Halak enthusiasts over the last three years, part of a trade that infuriated – and still infuriates – some of the Habs’ faithful, has been Lars Eller. Well, the lynchpin in that trade looks like he’s found the next level to his game.
Eller is off to a torrid start following a respectable season points-wise last year, and hockey analysts across Canada are scrambling to write up pieces about the young Dane. What makes the story even more appealing is how he’s playing following a gruesome hit by the Ottawa Senator’s Eric Gryba in game 1 of last year’s playoffs. You wouldn’t be able to tell anything had happened watching him play so far this season.
Following Montréal’s 4-1 victory in Edmonton, in which he was held pointless, Eller has posted 4 goals and 6 points in four games. That’s good enough for fourth place in NHL scoring as of Friday morning. It doesn’t hurt that he’s been flanked with some talented, young line mates – Alex Galchenyuk is sitting on 7 points (3rd) while Brendan Gallagher has 5 points (16th).
There has always been promise surrounding Eller, even though many Habs fans were frothing at the mouth in rage when former general manager Pierre Gauthier pulled the trigger on that Halak deal. Somewhere right now, Gauthier’s patting himself on the back. Hey, there are plenty of idioms out there, but how about “even a blind pig finds an acorn.” Love or hate the Ghost, I have always understood that move.
Trading Halak was constantly the right decision in my eyes. An older, injury prone goaltender, with timely heroics (and there were many) around contract time, I never thought he’d be worth what they would have probably signed him for. Looking back, while still a good goaltender, Halak has struggled to remain healthy and cement his place at the trough as the number one starter on a team that has been dubbed a Cup favorite for a few seasons now. I think there’s more upside to Carey Price.
But this isn’t about Halak. This is about a young man who’s living up to the potential that Jarmo Kekäläinen, current Columbus Blue Jackets GM, saw when he was assistant GM and director of amateur scouting for St-Louis. Under his guidance the organization selected Lars Eller 13th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
An interesting knock, if you want to call it a knock, against Eller was brought up by Bob McKenzie Wednesday night during the Montréal/Calgary game. He noted that there has always been offensive potential with Eller, but the fact remains that he is committed to being responsible defensively. McKenzie argued that this will likely never translate into him being a leading scorer. This is based on McKenzie’s and probably anyone who’s played with an offensive minded player’s view that offensive players are selfish. Eller is not.
I’d have to say that Eller is pretty much what the Canadiens have been looking for in terms of a center – a bigger and younger two-way center as a replacement for a visibly tiring Tomas Plekanec.
Any way you spin it, the scoring titles, playoff races, divisions leaders, or whatever it may be, are never won in early October. What can’t be denied is the fact that a bigger, stronger, more confident #81 is ripping around the ice and making both analysts and fans alike consider that maybe Eller’s ceiling is even higher.