Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 01/14/11 at 12:26 AM ET
Here’s a quiz for you: Lars Eller was drafted 13th overall in the 2007 NHL draft. Hyped as the “Danish Peter Forsberg,” Eller has thus far totaled 8 points in his young NHL career of 47 games. Another NHLer, drafted with much less fanfare, was picked nine spots later. This individual, who plays a quietly impressive, complete and gritty game, has 32 points in a 100 games over three seasons.
Any guesses? Here’s a hint: he’s a teammate of Eller’s.
Yep, that’s right. His name is Max Pacioretty.
Pacioretty has been a good story thus far in 2010-11, with 7 point in 14 games since his call up, including the electric game winner against Boston last weekend. However, he also epitomizes the problem with Lars Eller: he’s been an epic failure through the first half of the season.
There’s really no other way to put it. Not since Gui! Latendresse has a prospect been so hyped in Montreal and failed to live up to the expectations. And even that may be in question, as Latendresse put in quality minutes and scored double-digit goals.
Eller has been a failure from every angle. He’s taken bad penalties. He’s only scored 2 goals (that’s one every twenty games, for anyone counting). He’s had auditions on top lines and, let’s be honest, he must have been wearing an invisibility cloak because I didn’t see him, did you?
It pains me to say all of this, because I was really high on Lars Eller. I liked the guy, and I still do. He’s big, reasonably fast, apparently has soft hands. I just have yet to see him make use of those talents in any meaningful way. Pierre Gauthier acquired him as the centerpiece of the Jaroslav Halak trade (along with prospect Ian Schultz), and while Eller had a lot to live up to given who he was dealt for, I didn’t expect 30 goals. I didn’t even expect 20. But I expected more than this. To date, Eller’s biggest contribution to the Habs season has been a quote back in November where he expressed frustration over recent losses and felt the team could play better.
Now, perhaps I’m impatient, and perhaps Eller will develop into the top-six forward every Canadiens fan was hoping for. I have heard countless radio pundits this year comment that Eller is “only 21” and has lots of hockey ahead of him. But Pacioretty is 21. And he is playing with passion and determination – and scoring goals. If he can do it, why can’t Lars?
At this point, it almost feels as if Eller doesn’t have a role on the Canadiens. He has only 49 shots in 40 games, despite playing over ten minutes a match. Mathieu Darche has more in 36 games – Pacioretty has 44 shots in 14. Sure, Pacioretty is playing five minutes more a game, but Darche isn’t.
So this begs a question that I have been asking for a while, but I haven’t heard anyone answer: why not send Eller down to the AHL? If he’s not ready for the big leagues, why not give him a chance to play? Fourth line minutes and regular benchings aren’t going to help him develop.
The only answer I can come up with is that the Canadiens, and perhaps Mr. Gauthier, are trying to save face. They can’t bear to send down the fruits of the Jaro Halak deal, as if most fans don’t realize what is inherently obvious to just about everyone: Montreal got hosed.
Now, to interject a tad, and add a bit of sunshine to an otherwise negative post, Max Pacioretty is playing well. Really well. He seems to have a place on this team, and I suspect he’ll continue to contribute solid minutes. The reality is, however, that Max Pacioretty is Max Pacioretty – he’s not a top five pick, or a player fawned over for his pedigree. He’s a hard-nosed, hard working power forward who is making the most of his chance, and I applaud him for it.
So what happened to Eller?
Maybe the Habs can’t find another player to fill those ten minutes a game. I don’t know. But what I do know is that sitting Eller in the press box regularly, benching him mid-game, and giving him minutes with Travis Moen and Tom Pyatt isn’t going to help him develop into a top-line player. Lars Eller needs to play. If he’s not going to get the chance in Montreal, then he needs to head to Hamilton.
In the meantime, I just hope Ian Schultz turns into one heck of a hockey player.
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