The 30-year-old wanted to get his upper body more in sync with his lower body to build up his speed. With a focus on his arms, he worked on his alignment, balance and point of gravity to move better on the ice. With the Capitals’ new system so reliant on skating, Eller wanted to be prepared, but trying to change mechanics he had established naturally over time is difficult.
“When you’ve skated a certain way for 25 years and you try to change your mechanics in five or six sessions, five or six hours, when you spend 10,000 hours doing something else, then it’s hard,” Eller said. “You have to think about other things on the ice, too.”
Eller said the tweaks probably aren’t noticeable on television, but he constantly reminds himself of the adjustments while he’s on the ice. More often than not, he’ll look at video of the previous game to see where he can improve his skating. He did a lot of video work in the offseason with Marco to identify the ways he could improve his stride, explosiveness and speed.
Eller, who is in his 11th NHL season, is basically trying to teach himself how to walk again — but in hockey form.
“So far it doesn’t hurt me to think about it,” Eller said. “Sometimes I just watch clips after [games] in case I see, ‘Here, okay, I can do a better job of getting my upper body involved there, the separation.’ … So, yeah, it’s very technical.”
Eller’s work ethic and attention to detail, both with outside coaches and Capitals skills coach Dwayne Blais, made Coach Todd Reirden confident the center would have a strong season.
“He puts the work in and continues to be the perfect guy for us in that third [line],” Reirden said of Eller. “And, you know, when things don’t go well, we move him up, and that is a luxury I definitely have.”
Through 16 games, Eller has 11 points — five goals and six assists.
Last month, he assisted on the winning goals in back-to-back games — against Chicago and Calgary — to open a five-game road trip. Showing his ability to be a utility player, he also filled in for Evgeny Kuznetsov on the second line while the center was serving a three-game suspension to start the season.
“I’m in a good spot in my career,” said Eller, who is in his fourth season with Washington. “Todd has a good amount of faith in me and puts me out in key situations where we have to defend the lead. Or, you know, I get power-play time, and I move up when other guys are injured. So I’m just in a good spot for me. And I enjoy playing for this team and with these players around me, so it’s a good fit for me.”
Eller had 13 goals and 23 assists in 81 games last season. When the team won the Stanley Cup in 2018, he had a career-high 18 goals to go with 20 assists in 81 games. Eller said he thinks he can improve his goal total this season but doesn’t want to put a number on it. So far, he’s focused on team results, which have been positive with the Capitals 8-0-1 over their past nine games to improve to 11-2-3 overall.
“I think I had all the chances to score, you know, to score more goals and score more than I did,” Eller said of his production last season. “That is the number one thing. Are you creating enough scoring chances to score goals? And I think I did that. It was just a matter of capitalizing off my chances, and I think I could have done a better job of that last year. And so, you know, I think I can score more.”