Only the beginning
With just seven games on his NHL resume heading into 2010-11, few people knew much about Eller other than who he was traded for. Dealt to Montreal in the offseason move that sent 2010 playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis, the 21-year-old didn’t exactly get to slip in under the radar but Eller didn’t put any extra pressure on himself in Year 1.
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“I also think I’ve developed as a player and I finished the season the way I wanted to,” he added. “I think I’m a better player now than I was at the beginning of the season. There’s still a lot more I can get better at and that I need to learn, but I’m confident in how things are going.”
Part of the development process for any young player is being able to get advice from savvy veteran teammates. While Eller had plenty of help from the vets in the Habs dressing room, the words of wisdom that meant the most to him came from two-time Stanley Cup champion Scott Gomez.
“There are a lot of good veteran guys here and they’ve been really great with me this year. It’s just a good group of people all around. I spent a good amount of time off the ice with a lot of players, but I’d say especially Scott has really been great for me this year,” he mentioned of the 11-year NHL veteran. “He treated me really well and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from him which really helped me develop.”
Eller’s coming out party culminated in a team-leading plus-1 performance in the playoffs despite being saddled with the responsibility of shutting down the Bruins’ top line. The rookie center finished third on the team with 18 hits while helping stymie Boston’s offense, but perhaps the most impressive part of Eller’s postseason performance was that he was playing through a dislocated shoulder after a hit early in Game 6.
“Of course it was a little bit painful, but the biggest problem was that you just don’t have the amount of strength in your arm that you want,” he admitted. “It might have affected me a little bit, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse. I think I’ve been growing the whole year and I felt like I had a good playoffs. I played like the player I want to be and I played the way I want to play in the future. But there are still a lot of things I want to get better at, too.”
While Eller proved his worth as a shutdown forward this spring, the young sniper isn’t ready to be tagged with the “defensive forward” label just yet.
“I want to be a player like [Tomas] Plekanec,” shared Eller, who finished with 17 points in 77 games this season. “He plays on the power play, he kills penalties and he’s on the ice when we need to win a draw and the game is on the line. I think this year I’ve been developing my defensive skills a lot more than I ever have and maybe my offensive skill has shown as much as it has in the past, but I’m confident that’s going to come next year.
“This year was a good start for me and the playoffs were a nice way to finish that,” he explained. “I found a way to be at my best at the right time and that’s something I’ve always tried to do. You want to be at your best when everything is on the line and now I want to pick up where I left off. I’m confident I’ll have a good summer and I’ll come back even stronger next year.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
End of season assessment from the players