MONTREAL – After a long summer away from the books, students begin every new school year by brushing up on the previous year’s material. Back from Denmark and ready to hit the ice, Lars Eller won’t be needing a refresher course to review the lessons he learned in 2011-12.
It’s been over 150 days since the Canadiens closed the campaign with a 4-1 win over the Leafs at the Bell Centre on April 7. A full offseason of training later and the memory of his team’s 28th place finish is still fresh in Eller’s mind.
“You learn a lot more about your teammates and about yourself when you’re losing than when you’re winning,” admitted the 23-year-old center. “When you’re winning and you’re on a roll, life is pretty easy; it’s when times get tough that you get to see what you’re made of. It’s never a good thing to lose, but you do learn a lot, no question about it.”
For any young employee in the workplace, the ability to learn on the job is the key to success. When your chosen occupation means doing so in front of 21,273 people every night, that’s easier said than done.
“It was a tough year on all of us and we have no intention of repeating that,” explained Eller, who set career highs with 16 goals and 28 points in his second full NHL season. “But what you can take with you is next time you’re in a situation like we were in last year where things aren’t going the right way for longer periods of time, you know what you need to do to make sure you stop that evil circle before the hole gets too deep.”
The lessons kept on coming for the young pivot even after the curtain had closed on the Canadiens’ season. Before heading home to prepare for the coming campaign, Eller made a quick pit stop in Sweden to lead his country in scoring at the World Championships. One of just three NHLers on the Danish national team, the Rodovre native got to experience life as a grizzled veteran for a few weeks in Stockholm.
“I wasn’t one of the oldest guys but I was one of the more experienced players so you get to have a kind of leadership role on and off the ice,” shared Eller, who had a team-high three goals and five points during his third World Championships appearance. “There are a lot of younger guys on the team and they look up to the NHL players so I’m happy to help out. Of course I would’ve rather been playing in the playoffs in Montreal, but it’s still fun to play hockey and it’s an honor to represent your country.”
After spending two of the past three summers focusing more on rehabbing than beefing up, Eller welcomed the opportunity to hit the gym healthy when he returned home for the summer. Armed with a brand new two-year deal and set to hit the 200-game milestone this season, he’s ready to showcase his stronger, faster and shiftier play in 2012-13.
“I think I was a better player when the season ended than when it started. I grew with more responsibility and I played more minutes than in my first year. I felt like I took a step in the right direction,” he mentioned after seeing his ice time jump from 11:08 in 2010-11 to 15:18 per game last year. “Because of the two shoulder surgeries I had, I haven’t gotten the most out of my training the past few summers. But this year I’ve had a lot of time to build up that strength I wasn’t able to build the last few years.”
Having already played for three different coaches in his young NHL career, Eller is well-versed in the art of making a solid first impression – something that will come in handy when he introduces himself to coach No.4 this fall.
“It’s exciting to have some new faces and some new voices around. It’s going to be a challenge this year but we’re all looking forward to it,” he described of the all-new coaching staff he’ll be working with this season. “You have to look at it as an opportunity. I don’t want to say it’s a new start but it kind of will be; not so much for individuals but for the team as a whole. We’re coming in fresh and it’s a whole new season and an opportunity to prove ourselves.”
Based on Michel Therrien’s pedigree, the best way for Eller to score some points with his new coach will likely be by playing a gritty, two-way game. Luckily, the young Dane has already been apprenticing under the perfect role model down the middle for the past two years.
“Pleky [Tomas Plekanec] is the kind of player I pattern my game after and has the kind of role that I hope I can have eventually,” he explained. “I want to be a player who can be used in all kinds of situations; whether we’re down by a goal with a minute to go or we’re up a goal and need to protect a lead. I want to be a guy who can be counted on to play a bigger role with even more responsibility than I had last year. I’m just excited to get going.”
Isn't that all any teacher can ask for?
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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