The Caps traded two second round picks to the Montreal Canadiens for Lars Eller at the 2016 Draft, looking for the Danish center to fill a hole down the middle on the third line. If Eller’s first season in DC is any indication, the trade will come good and the team will be getting another stellar year from him next season.
|13:54||time on ice per game|
|56.3||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|61.9||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the 2016-17 season. A short description of each chart:
Lars Eller was brought in to improve a third line center role that has previously been handed to the likes of Jay Beagle, Dave Steckel, Eric Fehr, etc. Those names from the recent past had come up with varying average to very bad results. If Eller had come in and just been a slightly positive possession player who chipped in some offense here and there, while also playing on the penalty kill, I think most of us would have been very satisfied. Well, Eller had other ideas. He decided to become “bacon bits 2.0”, a nickname once coined by a one Peter Hassett for Eric Fehr back when Fehr was actually good at hockey. The name meaning that you can put Eller really anywhere in the lineup and he’ll give you good results, like how you can pretty much put bacon bits (real ones, not those gross, sorry, imitation, fake ones) on anything and they’ll make whatever you’re eating taste better.
Eller gave the Caps those big penalty kill minutes, took a ton of the face-off load when Jay Beagle was off the ice and chipped in 12 goals and 13 assists. Now 25 points doesn’t seem like anything to get too excited about, but those 25 points are, by my count, the highest total of points for a true third line center on the Capitals since Mathieu Perreault (what a horrible trade) had 30 under Bruce Boudreau in the 2011-12 season. In my eyes, that means GMBM identified a weakness and definitely filled it with a player fit for the role.
Yes, I recognize that Jay Beagle had 30 points this year, but I think arguments can be made not only about his role being different than Eller’s, but also about how it should have been even more different and this is Lars’ moment anyway, so let him have this okay. Gosh.
Moving onto Eller’s third line as a whole. It’s been spoken about at length already in two previous season reviews for Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, but it was so so so so good, we’re doing it again. In the 263 minutes that the trio skated together, they posted a 60.9 percent shot-attempt percentage, third among all forward combos in the entire league. The trio also posted a 73.5 goals-for percentage, good for fourth among all trios in 2016-17. You can call this line the “best third line in hockey” and not actually feel all homer-ish about it, because you wouldn’t be lying to yourself or to whoever your audience is.
Wrapping things up, Lars Eller is seemingly a perfect fit on Barry Trotz’s third line. Now, whoever plays to his right and left next season will probably be solved in free agency or by AHL promotion. Burakovsky is likely due for a jump into the top six, Connolly’s contract status as a restricted free agent is still up in the air, Jakub Vrana is coming off a not-so-great AHL season in Hershey, Riley Barber may still be too green, etc. But, one thing we know for sure is that without any egregiously bad coaching decisions, it’s probably not going to matter who exactly ends up on Eller’s right and left as he will likely drive play in the right direction on his own anyway.
Great year Lars. Do it again, please.
@Eller_89 giving out the love! Love this guy! Hoping for a great rest of the season! pic.twitter.com/Wy6IPg1yig
— Ovie the Bulldog (@OvietheBulldog) March 10, 2017
— NHL (@NHL) April 5, 2017
How good of a fit do you think Eller is? Do you think that he might have another level offensively?
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen
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