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Breaking out

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Lars Eller hit his stride during the 2012-13 campaign, and he certainly has the statistics to prove it.

Over the course of the season, the young Dane experienced far more highs than lows. Foreseeing Eller’s emergence as a bonified offensive threat, however, was complicated by the fact that after contesting the season opener, he would be benched by his head coach for the ensuing two games.

“We both wanted to ensure that I became a better hockey player. And, [Michel Therrien] will push the right buttons to make that happen. He will do the things that he believes will help me become a better player. He’s been a huge help for me. [Sports psychologist] Sylvain Guimond has also been a big help,” explained Eller, who saw his ice time increase consistently over the course of the season. “There’s a partnership that exists between a player and a coach. The player has to make a decision and choose what he’ll do. He has to decide if he’ll reach that next step.”

Eller beats Reimer

And, Eller has clearly decided to take that step forward.

Having started the season rather slowly after being held off the scoresheet in his first four games, Eller got going shortly thereafter, becoming increasingly effective as the year progressed. He was the most dominant Habs centreman in the month of April, registering 13 points in 14 games. That point tally tied Eller alongside Max Pacioretty for the team lead during that period.  

“I’ve been happy with my progress this year. I’ve taken a strong step forward. That was my intention. I can still improve,” noted Eller, hoping that this past season will be a good starting point for further success in 2013-14. “This season is the base for the next. I want to at least be as good next year as I was this year. I’m certain that everyone here is expecting the same thing from themselves.”

During the season, Eller made the most of his imposing frame, showcasing to fans and teammates alike that he was well-versed in the art of dishing out hits. The forward finished third amongst all Habs in that category, behind only Alexei Emelin and Brandon Prust. It’s notably one of the reasons the Rodovre native rejects the recurring line of questioning regarding the Canadiens’ size.

“It’s a subject everyone has an opinion about. Personally, when I look at a few of the teams that have won the Stanley Cup in the past, I think you have to find a balance. They have big guys and smaller players. I think that first and foremost you’ve got to have good hockey players,” argued the 6-foot-2 center. “The players have to have the right attitude and the desire to win. That’s not measured in kilograms or in pounds. We don’t win on the scale; we win on the ice. But, it’s a debate that will be around forever.”

Contributing to the success of the team is a phrase that is often overused. In Eller’s case, it applies perfectly. Of the 30 points he collected throughout the year, 21 of them came in Canadiens victories. He also finished the season with a plus-8 differential, marking the first time in his three seasons with the Canadiens that Eller finished on the plus side.

“I always want to get better. You can never be completely satisfied, but I’m very happy with my progress and of the way I played this season,” mentioned the 24-year-old pivot, who saw his season come to an abrupt end at the start of the playoffs.

After being utilized for 8:43 during Game 1 of the Canadiens-Senators series, Eller took an unsuspecting hit to the head from defenseman Eric Gryba who was handed a two-game suspension for the illegal check.

“There’s a good 10 minutes of my life where I don’t remember anything. But, I’m lucky because it could have been much worse,” affirmed Eller, who escaped with a broken nose and a concussion, the symptoms of which have subsided quickly.

That result was rather surprising given that Eller was taken off the ice on a stretcher after losing a lot of blood.

Back at practice a few days after his injury, Eller showed he wanted to return to action. One thing is certain, he likely won’t be left out of the lineup too often in 2013-14.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for Translated by Matt Cudzinoswki.

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