Montreal's Great Dane
Expectations have been sky high for Lars Eller ever since he came to Montreal along with Ian Schultz in return for netminder Jaroslav Halak. It's hard to say that those expectations are unreasonable, given the remarkable playoff performance of Halak during the 2010 NHL Playoffs, which saw the Canadiens go on an incredible run to the Eastern Conference Finals after knocking off the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. That being said, up until this point, Lars Eller has shown great strides in his development, and is quickly making people forget about the doubts they had when the trade was first announced.
Lars Eller was drafted 13th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues. Projected to be a mature two-way player with great skating, stickhandling and vision in his draft year, the Dane hasn't disappointed. Throughout his draft year Eller continued to elevate his play – and his reputation. He quickly shot up the rankings, and some people even suggested he could go in the top ten of the draft. While that didn't happen, he has already made more of an impact at the NHL level than some of those picked before him.
In the 2009-10 season, Eller played for the Blues' farm team in Peoria. He was a welcome addition to the squad as he put up 57 points in 70 games for the Rivermen, and even found a spot on the American Hockey League's All-Rookie Team that season. He was also named the AHL's Rookie of the Month in March of 2010. Eller also played 7 games with the Blues that season, scoring two goals in that time.
On June 27th, 2010, Lars Eller was traded to the Montreal Canadiens along with fellow Blues prospect Ian Schultz. At the time it caused an uproar amongst Habs fans. Many believed the return wasn't enough for their playoff hero, refusing to buy into any hype surrounding Eller or Schultz, and quickly chastising GM Pierre Gauthier for making such a trade. There was little faith, at the time, that Carey Price could be the goalie of the future for the Canadiens – an assumption he would prove wrong.
Things weren't easy for Eller in Montreal at the beginning, either. He struggled to find his first goal in a Habs' sweater for the first two months of the season, but avoided too much critcisim thanks to the play of goaltender Carey Price, who made the fans forget about Halak, at least for a little while. Things turned around for Eller on November 24th, 2010, when he finally scored his first as a Canadien against the Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Bernier.
While Lars only put up 17 points that season, Montreal fans witnessed flashes of brilliance, giving them hope that some day soon Eller would be a cornerstone of the franchise. This season is a different story. The flashes of brilliance are still there of course, but are occurring much more frequently. Most recently during a game against the Winnipeg Jets of January 4th, 2012. Eller opened the new year in a big way, scoring four goals to double his season total, and tally his first career hat-trick in the NHL. Eller also had an assist in the game. He became the first Canadien to score four goals on home ice since Brian Bellows in 1993.
With Eller providing some great offence recently for the Habs - he has 7 points in 5 games since being a healthy scratch on December 22nd - the future is looking very bright. He has delivered exactly what the scouting reports said he would several years ago. With some nifty stickhandling and the will to grind it out when he has to, Eller is looking like he will be a responsible player in both ends for years to come.
Eller has already tied his point total from last season just 38 games in, and all signs point to the young Dane continuing his development towards becoming a very solid two-way player for the Habs now, and in the future.