BROSSARD – Lars Eller might have been skeptical about transitioning to the wing, but things appear to be working out just fine.
With 27 games of experience in his brand new role under his belt, the 26-year-old Dane admits that the process of moving from his full-time post at center to flanking Alex Galchenyuk on the left side has gone far better than expected. Any and all skepticism has instead been replaced by optimism, as Eller continues to learn and steadily master the intricacies of a position that seemed somewhat foreign to him prior to the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
“I’m feeling very good right now. I didn’t think I was going to feel that comfortable on the wing. I didn’t feel that comfortable when I was playing there in the past. It was no secret that I liked being at center better, but now I’m really more comfortable at wing,” offered Eller, who has one goal and four points in his last five games, and seven goals and 11 points on the year. “As of right now, I really like playing that position. It’s been a really positive experience.”
In Eller’s mind, it wasn’t a question of if, but rather when his comfort level would reach a point that would allow him to go about his business without thinking too much and just reacting to a given situation. His play in recent weeks suggests that time has finally arrived.
“It’s just a question of learning how to deal with those situations. As a center, you’re always facing certain scenarios more often than others – which areas you’re going to have to make plays in, which areas you’re going to have to make quick decisions in. As a winger, there are certain areas you always end up in along the wall, especially in your own zone and coming out of your own zone. That took repetition over weeks to nail down in terms of where to be at certain times,” explained Eller, who is in the midst of his sixth full-time campaign with the CH. “As a center, you always end up in the middle more than on the wall. That was the biggest difference I had to learn about. I feel really comfortable doing those things. That helps.”
It’s also helped Eller’s cause to have Galchenyuk remain a linemate since the start of the year, even as head coach Michel Therrien has rotated six different right-wingers in and out on their line trying to create the right chemistry or to address an injury elsewhere in the lineup.
“I think every time you have consistency with your linemates over a longer period of time, it helps. If it’s working, of course you keep it together. If we’re playing bad, the dynamics need to change. But, I like how it’s been so far,” praised Eller, who, along with Galchenyuk, has also played with Alexander Semin, Torrey Mitchell, Devante Smith-Pelly, Brian Flynn, Paul Byron and Sven Andrighetto at some point during the first eight weeks of the regular season. “I always liked playing with Alex since the first year he came in. We’ve had good chemistry and understand each other’s games. I felt we were clicking well together. It helps having consistency with at least one linemate.”
Andrighetto is the latest winger to join the trio, debuting back on November 22 against the New York Islanders after being called up from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps two days earlier. Eller can’t say enough good things about what the Swiss forward has brought to the table.
“It gave us some energy. He’s done everything we could have asked from him. He’s been gelling very well with Alex and I, I think,” offered Eller, who also expanded upon some of Andrighetto’s best qualities following Friday’s on-ice session at the Bell Sports Complex. “It’s just his compete level. Winning puck battles. Making plays. Playing the right way. He’s done the little things right. He’s at the right areas. He fights for loose pucks. He’s been doing all that from the start. He hasn’t been cheating or letting up on plays. That’s been the key to his success.”
The Canadiens’ bench boss has certainly been pleased with their results.
“Adding Andrighetto in there added an element of freshness to the line. He’s been playing good hockey. I wanted to make sure that I kept things in tact with Alex at center. It would have been easy to move him, or even to move Lars, too,” shared Therrien, who has seen all three players heat up offensively since coming together as a unit seven games ago, with Galchenyuk leading the way after racking up five goals and eight points during that span. “When it comes to decisions like that, you don’t necessarily see the results right away. It takes time. We’re really happy to see things paying dividends and see them producing.”
And, Eller has been a strong contributor in that regard, making the most of his opportunities to factor in on the scoresheet. While the former 13th overall selection ranks 15th on the team in average ice time per game – seeing 13:56 of action per night so far this season – his seven markers currently have him tied for third in that department behind just Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise.
“The last three weeks, Lars has been playing some phenomenal hockey. His work ethic is perfect,” concluded Therrien, whose squad will go in search of its 20th win of the year on Saturday night in Carolina. “He’s taking care of himself and he cares about the team. He cares about the team being successful. I was glad he got rewarded [against Washington on Thursday night]. He was on the power play and he scored a goal. He deserves it.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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