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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
The centrepiece of the Jaroslav Halak trade, Lars Eller played his second full NHL season in 2011-12. Although he scored more than twice as many goals as he did in his rookie campaign, his year was often plagued by inconsistency in the offensive zone. On the other hand, he went from a player who often was sat in late situations to one of Montreal's more reliable two-way players. Will his third year be the one where he unlocks his offensive potential?
The optimist looks at Eller's 16 goals and says he was only a few good bounces away from 20. The pessimist looks at that and notes that without his 4-goal effort against Winnipeg, he barely hit double digits. Such a hot-and-cold contrast described the Danish centres' season perfectly; at times he was a significant threat while at other times he was nowhere to be found in the scoring zone as evidenced by five sets of pointless streaks spanning at least six games. Defensively is where he made significant strides, however. Eller was second (behind Tomas Plekanec) in takeaways while he averaged 1:41 of SHTOI, a far cry from the five seconds per game he had in 2010-11. As a result of his improved play in his own end, his ice time jumped up by over four minutes per game.
Season Stats: 79 GP, 16 G, 12 A, 28 PTS, -5 rating, 66 PIMS, 2 PPG, 2 GWG, 129 SOG, 15:18 ATOI
As it stands, Eller is likely to once again be the #3 centre for the Habs. He has had very little success when moved to the wing at the NHL level although he did play on the left side at the 2012 World Championships and played extremely well for Team Denmark. If he is more comfortable playing there now, he could be an option for the second line which would be a boon for his point totals. The injury to Rene Bourque could open up a spot for him on the powerplay, at least to start the season while he should still see some penalty kill time. However, a return to health for Travis Moen and the addition of Brandon Prust should cut into his 1:41 average from last year.
As much as we'd all like to see Eller eclipse the 40 point plateau, it's very rare for third line centres to do so, especially when his wingers are likely to include at least one of Moen or Prust. Both of those players have hit the double digit goal mark just once in each of their respective NHL careers and are known more for their physical play than their offensive skills. His time on the man advantage will be spotty at best when the team is at full health so he can't be counted on to put up big numbers there either. That said, expecting some improvement is reasonable; cutting down on the number of lengthy pointless droughts should get him over the 30 point mark as long as he stays healthy. Eller is a worthwhile late selection in most leagues but don't reach too early hoping for him to do what David Desharnais did in 2011-12, the scoring opportunities likely won't be there for him. Bump him up a few notches in your rankings for pools that place higher emphasis on PIMS while knock him down a few spots in pools that have faceoff percentage as a stat as this is an area he has struggled notably in.
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