Lars Eller’s tenure with the Canadiens began with a famous criticism of the trade that brought him to Montreal. “What? [Goaltender Jaroslav] Halak for two hockey sticks and a bag of magic beans?” said Justin Trudeau, now the Canadian Prime Minister, of the 2010 swap.
As if playing in hockey-crazed Montreal didn’t come with enough expectations, that reaction put even more of a spotlight on Eller. When he was traded to Washington this summer for two future second-round draft picks, there was significantly less fanfare.
But to Eller, there’s still pressure in being the Capitals’ new third-line center. He said his move to Washington has energized him, a fresh start that offers a stability in the lineup he didn’t have in Montreal. For a Capitals team that was short on depth scoring in the postseason, the acquisition of Eller was part of the offseason solution.
“I always think I put the biggest amount of pressure on myself,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to change, but I know who I am, I know what I’m here for, what I was brought in to do. Sometimes in Montreal, I was moved around quite a bit, maybe. I didn’t maybe at times find one place to stick in, so I’m just really, really excited to get started here.”
In 79 games with Montreal last season, Eller recorded 13 goals and 13 assists, and he admitted to inconsistent stretches of play, struggling with being moved around from center to wing and back. In Washington he’ll have a defined a role as the third-line center, and the Capitals hope he can help spur the scoring touch that forward trio was often lacking.
“I think it’ll help over the course of a season. That’s really just the bottom line,” Eller said. “It’s going to help me because it’s where I feel the most comfortable and it’s where I’ve played my best hockey in the past. It’s where I want to be.”
Said Coach Barry Trotz: “The great thing about Lars is he’s fitting in really well. I think he’s happy with the move. He’s playing with some pretty good players, and then the role that he’s got, you know, I give him pretty good responsibility, as well as they’re sort of taking advantage in that third hole offensively, which is really good. A lot of teams focus on that first and second line. For us, the third line is very capable of hurting you as well, so that’s good on us.”