Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Washington Capitals 2020-2021 Previews -- Forwards: Lars Eller

Lars Eller

“Face to face, out in the heat
Hanging tough, staying hungry
They stack the odds 'til we take to the street
For the kill with the skill to survive”

-- Frankie Sullivan/Jim Peterik

This is… Jeopardy!

I’ll take “Draft Picks for $500”…

“Joni Ikonen and Olivier Rodrigue”

Who were the two players drafted with the 2017 and 2018 second-round picks that the Washington Capitals traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Lars Eller in June 2016?

If you have never heard of Joni Ikonen or Olivier Rodrigue, you can be forgiven.  Neither player has yet dressed for a professional hockey team in North America.  Ikonen, drafted by the Canadiens in 2017, has spent his entire career in Europe since being drafted.  Rodrigue, drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2018, spent two more years in Canadian junior hockey and is currently playing in Europe.  And, to extend the transaction tree, Rodrigue was drafted by Edmonton because Montreal sent that 2018 draft pick to the Oilers for a third and a fifth-round pick in that same draft.  For the record, neither Jordan Harris (currently at Northeastern University) nor Samuel Houde (currently with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the QMJHL), taken with those picks by Montreal, have yet played in North American pro hockey.

To say the trade for Eller was a “steal” is quite an understatement.

Meanwhile, in his four seasons in Washington since arriving from Montreal, Eller is 59-79-138, plus-11, in 312 regular season games.  Those 59 goals rank seventh on the team in that span, the 79 assists also rank seventh, and the 138 points are tied for sixth (with Tom Wilson).  He has three shorthanded goals in that span (only Tom Wilson has more with four), and he leads the team in shorthanded points (six).

Last season, Eller was one of five Capitals to appear in all 69 games, his 16 goals ranked sixth on the club, his 23 assists tied for fifth on the team, and his 39 points ranked eighth.  He logged 1,174 total minutes (fourth-most among forwards), 1,448 shifts (second among forwards), and 2:26 in shorthanded ice time per game (third among forwards).

Odd Eller Fact… Perhaps is has something to do with abbreviated seasons.  Twice in Lars Eller’s 11-year career, he finished the season scoring more than half a point per game.  He had 30 points in 46 games in the 48-game 2012-2013 season (0.65 points per game), and he had 39 points in 69 games in last season’s pandemic-shortened schedule (0.57).

Odd Eller Fact II… Perhaps it was something he brought with him from Montreal.  After wearing jersey number “81” with the Canadiens, Eller came to Washington and played in 81 games in each of his first three seasons with the Caps.  Only a pandemic-shortened season kept him from the change of make it four-for-four.

Fearless’ Take…

If you look at the group of 20 centers with a salary cap hit last year between $3.0 and $4.0 million (Eller’s hit is $3.5 million), Eller was tied for fifth in that group in goals (16), sixth in assists (39), and seventh in points (39).  On an individual level for the Caps, his 16 goals last season were eclipsed only once in his career (18 with the Caps in 2017-2018), he tied a career high in assists (23, also recorded in 2018-2019), and he posted a career best in points (39).  To this add his value as a player who can be slotted up and down the lines as circumstances dictate, and he is among the more valuable, not to mention “good value” players for the Caps in recent memory.

Cheerless’ Take…

Twelve games, one goal, four points, minus-6.  If you are keeping score at home, that is Lars Eller’s postseason scoring line over the last two seasons.  This past season, there might have been things weighing on his mind, in addition to the pandemic/bubble issues all players were dealing with.  There was the matter of the upcoming birth of his second child, for which he missed the last three games of the playoff loss to the New York Islanders.  But the last two years stand in stark contrast to the 7-11-18, plus-6 scoring line he had, in addition to his league leading three game-winning goals (including the Cup clincher), in 24 games in 2018, when the Caps won the Cup.  His contributions matter.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021:

  • 800 career NHL games played (he currently has 754)
  • 300 career points (294)
  • 50 career penalty minutes (460)
  • Top-50 in points in Capitals history (138, needs 19 to pass Matt Niskanen and Robert Picard for 49th place)
  • Top-50 in goals scored in Caps history (59, needs four to pass Andre Burakovsky and Keith Jones for 49th place)

The Big Question… Can Eller maintain his consistency?

Eller will turn 32 years of age in May.  This is still in the prime of his productive years, but it is also a time when one might start to look for telltale signs of wear and diminishing results.  He has given no indication that he will be suffering this problem any time soon, but the relationship of his presence and production with Caps success makes his continuing to exhibit the consistency and versatility he has in his first four seasons in Washington one of the essential considerations in success for the 2020-2021 squad.  With three years left on his current deal, the club will be counting on him to continue providing the value he has over the first two years of his contract.

In the end…

Lars Eller is unique in Capitals history.  He is the only Capital ever to score a Stanley Cup-clinching goal.  If he did nothing else – if he does nothing else – this alone would likely be enough for him to avoid ever having to pay for a drink in DC again.  But time goes on, and Eller has been as reliable and consistent a player one could imagine in the two years since the Caps won the Cup.  That is a quality the Caps are going to find necessary if they are to make another run at a Stanley Cup. 

Projection: 56 games, 13-21-34, plus-3

Photo: Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images