Photo: Harry How
Heading into the offseason, Brian MacLellan said he was going to upgrade the Caps’ third line over the summer. Per usual, MacLellan did exactly what he said he was going to do by acquiring Lars Eller from the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks.
MacLellan said that Eller had been on his radar since last season and that he thinks the acquisition fills the Caps third line center spot. MacLellan touted Eller’s skating ability and two-way play as the reasons that he thought the newly-acquired center is a good fit in DC.
Here’s a closer look at what Eller brings to the table.
One of the main things MacLellan emphasized about Eller was that he’s a good two-way forward. This can mean different things to different people, but one aspect of this is the ability to limit the amount of shots the opponent directs towards your net. Eller looks strong here. Among the 15 forwards who have skated 700-plus 5v5 minutes for Montreal since 2013-14, Eller ranks fourth in shot attempts against per 60 and third in relative shot attempts against per 60. So yes, the Canadiens were better able to limit shots against with Eller on the ice than when he was on the bench.
Offensively, the results aren’t quite as encouraging. Eller has only reached 30 points once in his career and hasn’t topped 27 points at any point in the last three seasons. Over those three seasons, Eller has posted 1.3 points per 60, good for 10th among the 15 Montreal forwards referenced above. But this isn’t all that discouraging for a third line center. While some may have envisioned a more obvious offensive upgrade to the third line with the way MacLellan had talked heading into the offseason, reaching the upper-20s in points is fine enough for a third line player.
Eller may be able to add to his offensive totals in Washington if the team builds two offensive wingers around him. While Eller did spend a good amount of time in Montreal skating alongside offensive players such as Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, some of his other most common linemates were lesser players such as Brandon Prust, Jiri Sekac, and Rene Bourque.
One would assume Marcus Johansson, or a similarly skilled player, is likely to spend a good amount of time skating on Eller’s wing. If the Caps sign a player with offensive upside or give a player like Jakub Vrana a crack on the third line, Eller could see an uptick in production and also help provide defensive stability to the line.
For more context, here’s a look at how Eller compares Johansson and Jay Beagle, the Caps two main third line centers last season, as well as Tom Wilson, the other remaining player on the roster who spent the most amount of time on the third line last season.
|Player||Points/60||Shot Attempt % (Relative)||Individual SA/60||Goals For %|
Score- and venue-adjusted stats from 2013-2016 from Corsica
This is a bit of a mixed bag.
In production, Eller is well below Johansson’s production level and is only on par with Beagle’s per 60 production over the last three seasons. (It’s important to note that Beagle has had far and away his two best offensive seasons during the three seasons included in these numbers. I’d bet the under moving forward for Beagle.) Eller is clearly, and thankfully, a better producer than Wilson.
Eller looks solid when it comes to possession. He’s a clear upgrade over Beagle and Wilson and still even a tad better than Johansson when it comes to relative possession numbers.
Eller isn’t afraid to shoot the puck, which is a welcomed addition to a Caps forward group who, as brilliant as they are, sometimes as a whole doesn’t fire the puck enough.
The goals for percentage column looks ugly, but there’s context needed here. Eller’s 5v5 save percentage over the last three seasons has been only 90.8 percent, well below the league average and two to three percent lower than the three players he’s being compared to. According to Corsica, Eller’s xGoals for percentage over that span is a much healthier 50.9 percent.
As the Caps move towards a more offensively-minded third line, Eller is a player who could provide defensive stability and responsibility to the line while not neutering the line’s offensive capabilities. He’s a good possession player who limits shots against but can also chip in offensively, and he may yet have more offense in him if the Caps put him with the right set of wingers. MacLellan said he was going to upgrade the third line this offseason and, by trading for Eller, he’s done that.
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