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Lars Eller joined the Habs as a marked man. He was acquired in the trade that sent Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues in the summer of 2010, merely a month after Halak backstopped the Canadiens to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was a performance that had Halakís name cleverly dubbed across stop signs on fan-edited photos and t-shirts. Needless to say, expectations on Eller were high. While he didnít exactly live up to them immediately, heís shown signs of whatís to come.
After a slow start to the 2013 season, Eller played his way out of Michel Therrienís doghouse to become a consistent contributor to the Habs offence. The Rodovre, Denmark native asserted himself in the lineup with a hardworking two-way game. His importance to the Montrealís dynamic, albeit underrated, was exposed when he was knocked out of the lineup by a vicious hit by Senators defenseman Eric Gryba in the first game of the Habs abbreviated playoff run. The team never recovered.
Ellerís production last season was impressive because it came with few opportunities on the powerplay, and an average ice time just under 15 minutes per game. Of his 30 points on the season, only five came with the man advantage. Ellerís strong play at both ends of the ice resulted in 25 of his 30 points at even strength. Whether or not Eller could have stretched his scoring pace over an 82-game season remains to be seen Ė but if the lockout-shortened season is any indication, Eller is primed for a career year in 2013-2014.
Season Stats: GP 46, G 8, A 22, PTS 30, +/- +8, PIM 45, PPG 1, SHG 0, GWG 1, SOG 84, ATOI 14:49
3 Year Averages(Because of the lockout-shortened season, we are pro-rating all of 2012-13's numbers over a typical 82-game year.)
Anything is possible for Eller next season. With Tomas Plekanec expected to get the bulk of the ice time at even strength and on both the penalty kill and powerplay, Eller will be competing directly with David Desharnais for ice time. Thereís no clear-cut number one center for the Habs, so expect duties to spread out rather evenly to allow Therrien to roll three lines. This ultimately means less offensive production for the Habs centres, but could prove to be a boon for the Dane if he can increase his power-play minutes.
At even-strength, heíll find himself anywhere from the teamís third line to first line throughout the season. The good news for Eller is that he is in control of his role with the team. In a recent interview with Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette, Lars shared that heíll be weighing in at around 220 pounds when training camp begins. The extra muscle mass was added to improve strength while maintaining overall athleticism. Itís clear that Eller is determined to assert himself as the big centre the team has lacked for so many years. With Plekanec, 5í11, and Desharnais, 5í7, the opportunity is Ellerís for the taking.
Projected StatsGP: 75
If the lockout hadnít shortened the season to 48 games in 2013, Eller would have scored a pro-rated 51 points in 82 games. Not too shabby for a 23-year-oldís third full season with the Canadiens. Is it a sign of things to come? Is this the year where Eller lives up to the expectations attributed to him when he was acquired in the Halak trade?
While Ellerís production depends on his ability to out-perform Desharnais and Plekanec, it will be interesting to see which of the teamís wingers flank him. As a playmaker, Eller saw success when paired with scoring wingers such as Brendan Gallagher and Rene Bourque. Both Alex Galchenyuk and Daniel Briere are also options next season as well. Since itís less likely that heíll be paired with Pacioretty or Gionta given their chemistry with Desharnais and Plekanec respectively, it will be up to Eller to elevate his wingersí game as well as his own.
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