Everyone associated with the Montreal Canadiens has benefited from the play of Carey Price this year, from his fellow players, to team management, to the people who invest so much of their emotions rooting for the club.
But if there’s one guy above all who’s had an easier go of things because of Price’s play, it’s Lars Eller. That’s because Eller, of course, was involved in the deal that sent Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues last summer after the Slovakian goalie had lifted Montreal to playoff heights it hadn’t seen in more than 15 years.
In truth, GM Pierre Gauthier would have been most directly in the line of fire had the decision to retain Price over Halak blown up, but you have to think Price’s MVP-type play has relieved a little bit of the burden on Eller and granted him some shelter from potentially outrageous expectations.
And that’s a very good thing because the returns on this 21-year-old have been anything but immediate. His first healthy scratch came before his first goal and coach Jacques Martin has opted to keep him out of the lineup on four other occasions, even as recently as a month ago.
Suffice it to say with seven goals and 15 points in 64 games, Eller isn’t setting the world on fire offensively. But four of those goals came in his past seven games as he’s struck some chemistry with Andrei Kostitsyn playing on one of the bottom two forward lines. Even before a couple pucks started going in for Eller, there were indications he can be a quality player in the NHL. Most notably, he’s a genuine hustler who never takes a shift off. Martin may have benched him a couple times, but overall, Eller has done a good job of earning his coach’s trust by demonstrating the commitment to defense Martin requires of all his players.
Over time, Eller is going to have to score at a much higher rate to legitimize Gauthier’s decision to trade a top goalie for him. But the good news is, with just 71 total games in the NHL, there’s still lots of time for him to grow and, increasingly, more reason to believe he can develop into an impact player.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.