The soft-spoken young-looking Lars Eller has a heap of pressure on him when he made his Montreal Canadiens debut in 2010. Eller had just been acquired for the hero that had carried the Habs to the Conference Finals, Jaroslav Halak, as the club decided that Carey Price would be its goaltender of the future instead. Arriving in Montreal as a 21-year old in just your second season playing in North America with the expectation that you were good enough to give up a national her for; no easy shoes to fill. But Eller isn't one to fold in the face of pressure - in fact, he's one to battle through it with the trademark ear-to-ear grin on his face, the kind of bright disposition that almost says, "I'm just happy to be here." And be here he has, improving from a 7-goal first campaign to 16 this past season while winning the hearts of many a Hab fan along the way.
Eller, who celebrated his 23rd birthday just 9 days ago, has had lots more to celebrate of late. First, for his spinorama penalty shot goal in his memorable four goal-evening, Eller was rewarded with the "Play of the Year" title by Canadiens fans on the team's official website, defeating Carey Price in the finals after the goaltender had won the award three seasons in a row. You can relive the native of Rodovre, Denmark's crazy evening below:
While disappointed to not get to play any playoff hockey this Spring, the Canadiens' elimination allowed Eller to attend the IIHF World Championship, where he helped Denmark to narrowly avoid relegation from the top group. The Danes won only one game, 2-0 over Latvia, but combined with taking Italy to overtime, it was enough to remain ahead of the Italian squad to return to fight again in next year's tournament. The Danes loaded up their top line, with Eller most frequently skating on the New York Islanders' Frans Nielsen's wing, and having Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks on the other side. Eller led his club both in goals (3) and points (5) in their 7 games, and perhaps most impressively, led all forwards in the entire tournament in time on ice per game for the preliminary round, with his 20:56 coming in just one second ahead of Nielsen's (but both far ahead of anyone else).
Eller is still young and brings size to Montreal's offense with his 6'2", 198 lbs frame (which many hope he can still fill out a little more), but where he fits over the longer-term remains a question. He has displayed incredible hands - perhaps the best stickhandling on the team - at times, but has also struggled to finish around the net. After scoring 16 in 79 games this past season, it isn't unreasonable to think him capable of 20 next year, but it will depend on the role the team slots him into. Will he spend time on the wing in a top 6 position with Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais? Will he return to his familiar third line center role? If so, will his primary task be as a two-way, shutdown center, or will the team role three primarily offensive trios? Perhaps the best case scenario would be for him to begin in the middle on the third unit, but show enough offense to be deserving of a promotion. Having both of its top 6 offensive centers under 6 feet (one way under 6 feet) is a weakness of the Canadiens, so if Eller could show capable of playing such a role, no one would complain about a club able to ice 3 "top 2" trios.