MONTREAL – The 2014-15 campaign left Lars Eller wanting more, a lot more.
While Eller found the back of the net 15 times in 77 games over the course of the regular season – and added 12 helpers along the way – it simply wasn’t enough for the 26-year-old Dane, who believes his offensive upside didn’t necessarily shine through at times between October and early April.
“Like always, it was a season with a lot of learning. I think it was more up and down than I would have liked. There were periods when I didn’t play my best, but there were also times when I played very good hockey. Sometimes, you play well and you just don’t get the results out of it. Overall, though, it was a good year,” offered Eller, who twice last season was held without a goal for 14 straight games. “For me, the biggest thing is to become more consistent. Growing up, I was always a very offensive player, a skill player. Those strengths, if I can bring them more consistently, there’s a chance I’ll get to play a bigger role. When I play my best, I’m very good offensively. If I do my part, the rest will follow.”
When Eller did manage to light the lamp, though, he certainly made opposing teams pay the price. Seven of the six-year NHL veteran’s markers were game-winning goals, trailing only Max Pacioretty in that department last season on the Canadiens. Nevertheless, Eller believes his overall production could have been stronger, if not for a few hiccups at different points during the year.
“I had an [upper-body] injury in December that kept me out for two weeks, which was right before the point where I think I played my best hockey of the season. Injuries come and go, but it wasn’t the ideal time to get one. I also dealt with a lot of defensive zone starts and playing on the penalty kill, so 15 goals isn’t necessarily bad. It was hard to get more production. I would’ve liked to put up more assists, for sure, though,” confided Eller, who averaged 15:30 of ice time per game in 2014-15. “The two linemates I started the season with [Rene Bourque and Jiri Sekac] got traded, too. One got traded early and one got traded later in the year. When that happens, you have to start creating chemistry with new linemates. That’s just how the game is. Sometimes, change is good. Other times, it isn’t. But, the more stability you can have, the better.”
The Canadiens’ No. 81 had to cope with more change during the final month-and-a-half of the regular season. Featured on the wing instead of his natural position at center, Eller embraced a new role, lining up primarily alongside young gun Jacob De La Rose and newcomer Devante Smith-Pelly, while also being given time on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk.
“I took a lot of pride in my role on the team. It changed a little bit sometimes with injuries and guys being moved around. I played the wing for a bit. You’ve got to be ready for whatever is thrown at you because things change very quickly in this business. I think I showed I could be effective on the wing, but I still prefer to play center. I think that’s where I play my best. It really got confirmed again that I can be a decent winger if that is needed, but I prefer to play center,” mentioned Eller, who won 51.7 percent of his draws last season. “In this game, though, you have to embrace change. It’s so important to have the right mindset. Your role can change, so can your ice time or your position. I’ve come to learn that you’ve just got to live one day at a time.”
That really is the best way to approach things in today’s NHL, particularly come playoff time, which just happens to be Eller’s favorite time of the year. For the second straight year, the former first-round selection delivered another good postseason effort, albeit without racking up the same point-haul he’d managed to compile during the 2013-14 run to the Eastern Conference Finals when he finished second on the team in scoring with five goals and 13 points in 17 games.
“I still think I managed to play my best hockey once the playoffs came around. I think I raised my level to that occasion. It’s the most fun time of the year. I live for those games and those moments,” admitted Eller, who registered one goal and three points in 12 playoff games in 2014-15. “Last year, some chances I got, I scored on. This year, some of the same chances just went off the post, hit something else or got stopped on the goal line. I’m definitely pleased with the effort, but I’m obviously not satisfied with the results.”
That disappointment didn’t stop Eller from heading into the offseason feeling optimistic about what the immediate future has in store. The father of one believes the CH ultimately accomplished a lot in 2014-15 despite an abbreviated playoff run.
“I think we were a close group this year. We had a heck of a regular season, even though things aren’t quite good enough unless you win it all. Expectations are high. But, we managed to get 110 points and we were in the Presidents’ Trophy race right until two or three games left on the schedule,” concluded Eller, who will spend the majority of the summer training in Montreal, but return home to Denmark for part of July. “Results-wise, and the way we grew as a team, I’m very pleased with that. I think that experience is going to help us next year and for years down the road.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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