The trade that sent Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues last summer has become a very unique transaction in the sense that whenever the debate about who won the deal comes up, the player most often mentioned wasn’t even someone involved in the swap.
The first name you’ll hear from the lips of Montreal Canadiens fans when discussing that monumental move is that of Carey Price. More to the point, they’ll talk about how Price has most definitely been the team’s most valuable player and, one-quarter of the way through the season, is even in the discussion for league-wide MVP. That fact, coupled with Montreal’s solid start, has helped relieve the burden on one of the players who actually was involved in the swap with St. Louis. That of course is Lars Eller, the young Dane acquired from the Blues in the hopes he can become an impact center for Montreal.
Thus far, that hasn’t happened. The 21-year-old has played most of the season on the third or fourth line and, entering Monday night’s tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers, Eller had just one assist through 19 games. The Canadiens may not have been expecting the kid to be a top scorer on the team, but you have to believe they had him pencilled in for a little more production than that.
Does that mean GM Pierre Gauthier whiffed when he got Eller and fellow prospect Ian Schultz for Halak? Not entirely. First off, it’s obviously far too early to anticipate the entire arc of Eller’s career. The NHL rookie is playing just his second season of North American hockey after skating in the American League last year. And there are signs Eller’s game is coming around. The first thing many of his teammates will cite about him is the competitive desire he shows. He’s not somebody who takes nights off and, even if the points haven’t been coming, it hasn’t been for lack of effort. Earning coach Jacques Martin’s trust as a young player is notoriously tough, but Eller has seen some time on the penalty kill recently, a sign Martin believes in the freshman.
Sooner or later Eller is going to have to start producing to validate Gauthier’s decision to acquire him. But for now, his offensive struggles can be soothed by the team’s success and the small, but distinct signs his game is coming around.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.