MONTREAL – Whether regular-season struggles or playoff heroics, Lars Eller’s 2013-14 season was one to remember.
Starting the 2013-14 campaign alongside youngsters Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, Eller paced the Habs’ offense in the early going, notching five goals and four assists in the month of October. However, that hot streak soon gave way to a lengthy scoring drought. After shooting over 16 percent in the first month of the season, Eller’s conversion rate slid below his career average of 10 percent for five consecutive months. The lack of offensive production and an unfortunate minus-14 differential between November and January resulted in him being a healthy scratch on more than one occasion. He would end 2013-14 with 26 points in 77 games, a disappointing development considering he posted 30 points in just 46 games during the shortened 2012-13 season.
“The key is to be consistent. You can’t play your best for two games and then let off. It doesn’t work like that in the NHL,” admitted the 25 year-old, who seemingly took a step back just when he was expecting to hit his prime as a professional.
In truth, as bad as the mid-season outlook was for the talented pivot, some of it was simply due to Eller not getting the right bounces between Halloween and the Olympic break. Not blessed with David Desharnais' quickness or Tomas Plekanec’s vision, Eller nevertheless helped drive puck possession and was versatile enough to accommodate a variety of linemates in varying deployments no matter what his boxscores showed.
With the acquisition of Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline sending ripples throughout Michel Therrien’s forward lineup, the Dane was united with savvy veteran Brian Gionta and the streaky Rene Bourque. Both were volume shooters who also had something to contribute on the defensive side of the puck. Instead of feeling the need to finish plays himself, as he did for the majority of the season while skating on checking lines, Eller would now have the option to dish off to Gionta, a former 48-goal scorer in New Jersey, or to Bourque, who scored 27 goals twice for the Calgary Flames.
It took 82 games for the centerman to find his range, and it culminated in perhaps the best three weeks of hockey he has played since learning the game from his father in Rodovre, Denmark. Thanks to Eller’s work, Rene Bourque erupted for a team-best eight goals against Tampa, Boston and New York in the three playoff rounds, while Gionta added seven points of his own. In the nick of time, Lars Eller had once again become a player to be counted on by the Canadiens.
“I see myself as a top-six forward. My objective is to work my way up to that and become someone who can play at both ends of the ice in important situations,” insisted Eller, who saw his workload increase from under 15 minutes to a career-high 16-and-a-half minutes per game in the playoffs.
“Experience always helps. Now we know what it takes to win two rounds, and it makes us all want to go even further,” acknowledged the Dane, who led all Canadiens forwards in playoff scoring with 13 points in 17 games.
For the former first-round pick, it was a fitting end to a character-building season.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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