5 Reasons Montreal Canadiens Should Hold on to Lars Eller

Ryan SzporerContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2013

5 Reasons Montreal Canadiens Should Hold on to Lars Eller

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    The Great Dane that is Lars Eller is seemingly in Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien’s doghouse, only to exit at the first sign of injuries.

    While Therrien refuses to number his lines at risk of labeling them, if you typically center Travis Moen and Colby Armstrong when on the ice, chances are you’re not exactly playing top-six minutes.

    There’s also the undeniable fact that he was a healthy scratch for two straight games earlier in the season.

    One would hope the reason he hasn’t been more recently is improved play, but that’s not necessarily the case as the two games he missed were ones in which fellow center Ryan White played instead, meaning Therrien just has more faith in Eller. That’s like saying you just trust the dane not to bite you a little more than the pitbull.

    While both have their respective skill set, it’s clear that the former has more to give the Habs in the long term, most notably sheer talent. Here are that and four other reasons the Habs should stick with Eller.

Jaroslav Halak Continues to Find Success in St. Louis

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    Before sustaining a groin injury at the start of February, Jaroslav Halak and his 6-1 St. Louis Blues were doing pretty well.

    He had a 3-0 record and, even though his .889 save percentage left something to be desired, it’s safe to say he has, nonetheless, solidified the starter’s position ahead of Brian Elliott (.849 save percentage and five straight losses).

    It’s arguably a position he would never have found himself in had he stayed a Hab, having to wrest the starter’s job away from golden boy Carey Price.

    So, following Halak’s otherworldly playoff performance in 2010, in which he secured series victories over the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Habs did the only logical thing: They dealt him at their first opportunity to the Blues for two unproven forwards.

    One of those was, of course, Eller, who has unfortunately yet to establish himself to the same degree as Halak in the National Hockey League. The other? Ian Schultz, a grinder in the mold of Chris Neil with so many more discipline issues he’s had trouble staying in the ECHL.

    It was clear from the get-go that the Habs had great expectations for Eller at least, because the alternative, trading a capable No. 1 goalie for two spare parts, would only have meant then-general manager Pierre Gauthier didn’t know what he was doing. And, really, what are the chances of that?

    Thankfully, Price has become a force in the crease for the Habs, proving the Habs right to a certain extent. However, the fact remains that, unless Eller becomes one in front of him, they could and should have gotten so much more for Halak.

    It may not be the most politically correct motive out there, but trading away the 23-year-old now would only be an admission of guilt on the part of the proud franchise that management didn’t do its due diligence back then, and no one needs that kind of distraction.

His Size

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    For the first time in forever, Montreal has a future No. 1 center that has actual, legitimate size in Galchenyuk (6’1”, 196 pounds at 19 years of age).

    Galchenyuk projects as a playmaking pivot that won’t get pushed around as easily as, say, the 5’7” 177-pound David Desharnais. Sometimes getting lost in the mix, however, is the 6’2”, 209-pound Eller.

    In fact, Eller projects as a second-liner and would presumably in time give Montreal two sizable centers, with skill as well, which would, of course, be a key component of a winning team.

    Montreal may not necessarily become the envy of the league, as there are definitely bigger players than either of them out there, but a one-two punch of Galchenyuk and Eller would certainly be nothing to scoff at.

    Additionally, Eller, initially listed at 6’0” and 198 pounds, has obviously grown a great deal in just a few short years, and he may still fill out some.

    However, it’s clear if his skills don’t follow suit, he may actually belong in Moen’s jersey as a slightly less gritty carbon copy of the big winger, let alone on the same line.

His Talent

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    Everyone should remember Eller’s four-goal, five-point performance against the Winnipeg Jets last season. If not, feel free to watch the accompanying YouTube clip for a refresher. If nothing else, it should serve as a reminder of his misused potential.

    That isn’t to say Eller can’t contribute in the fourth-line role Therrien has him in now, just that he’s clearly capable of so much more. And one need not even look as far back as last year to see what he can do in a top-six role.

    When Max Pacioretty suffered a burst appendix, Eller filled in for him on the team’s top line and scored one goal and three points against the Buffalo Sabres.  

    For the record, that’s one goal more than Pacioretty had all season prior to Monday and that embarrassing misjudgment on the part of Carolina Hurricane Cam Ward (that he himself actually belongs in the league). Still, few of us are as quick to question Pacioretty’s dedication and work ethic.

    Of course, sometimes the criticism directed towards Eller is justified, and if people are expecting him to produce multi-point games every night he plays on the top two lines, he will surely disappoint.

    However, should he be given the same courtesy and level of responsibility that Galchenyuk has been, as well as Brendan Gallagher, it’s easy to imagine he will develop as he should.

His Versatility

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    There’s good reason people fawn over Alex Galchenyuk.

    He’s got the pedigree, being a top three overall draft pick. He’s got serious skills, recently setting up a game-winning overtime goal against the Florida Panthers. He’s got defensive awareness, having played most of the year on a checking line. And he can play both the wing and at center.

    It all begs the question of why fans aren’t as excited about Eller, seeing as he meets all the above criteria as well. In fact, he’s played in two fewer games, and, up until Galchenyuk scored the game-winning goal against the New York Rangers, had the same amount of goals.

    Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that Eller can contribute to the team in many different ways. Putting him a checking role at least shows Therrien has faith in him defensively, if not his offensive skills.

    Of course, he’s far from a complete package, and, as Michel Therrien suggested on talk show Tout Le Monde en Parle, he does need coaching, but all the tools are there for him to develop into a well-rounded player that can fit into any one of many different situations in a pinch for the Habs.

Depth

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    On Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, Pacioretty, Gallagher, Armstrong and Alexei Emelin all suffered injuries of varying degrees of seriousness.

    Eller might not be able to replace Emelin’s unique brand of physicality (or be able to play as a defenseman), but he could theoretically fill in for any of the others without the team suffering a serious downgrade as result (and enjoying an upgrade in regard to Armstrong).

    In fact, as previously mentioned, Eller has already successfully filled in for Pacioretty on one occasion. On Monday, he found himself on the first line again, taking Gallagher’s spot.

    Given the opportunity to prove himself over long stretches of time, especially now that he’s developed somewhat since first being acquired, he would very realistically consistently perform in high-pressure situations.

    And, should Therrien opt to keep him in his current spot in the lineup, it could be worse, as how many fourth-liners do you know that are on pace for 34 points over the course of an 82-game season?

    However way you slice it, Eller gives the Habs much-needed depth this season, and, considering he will still be a restricted free agent when his contract expires at the end of next year, for the foreseeable future as well.

    That is, assuming Montreal doesn’t up and trade him like they did Halak.