Lars Eller had a terrible start to his season, but finished very strong in his first year with the Washington Capitals.
When the Washington Capitals traded two second round picks for Lars Eller at the 2016 NHL Draft, he was supposed to be the missing piece. The third line center. Like Nick Bonino, the one who destroyed them roughly a month earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A weak 2016 portion of his season made a lot of fans upset. However, Eller rebounded in 2017 to emerge not just as the Caps third line center, but as one of the best third line centers in the NHL. With the Capitals loading up for one more Stanley Cup run, he’s an important piece.
All stats, unless otherwise mentioned, are from Corsica. Possession and goals for stats are at even strength and adjusted for venue, score and zone.
|5v5 primary points/60
|Time on ice per game
|5v5 CorsiFor percentage
|5v5 GF percentage
|5v5 xGF percentage
|5v5 CorsiFor relative
|5v5 GF relative
|5v5 xGF relative
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To say Eller dominated possession is an understatement. He finished with the second best even strength CorsiFor percentage of all Capitals forward with at least 300 minutes played. Along with Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, Eller formed a trio that finished among the NHL’s leaders in various categories. He was acquired to give the Caps a third line capable of scoring and from January to April, the third line did precisely that.
Eller came to Washington advertised as a great penalty killer. And yet he was still better than advertised. Eller played the third most shorthanded minutes of any Capitals forward. He would have played even more had it not been for a rash of penalties (more on this later). Eller allowed the fewest scoring chances against per 60 minutes on the penalty kill of any Capitals forward who played at least 85 minutes. Not only that, he generated offense as well, showing off his speed by creating some breakaways.
It wasn’t all sunshines, rainbows and unicorns for Eller. He started off his season terribly. In his first 34 games, Eller had just six points to go along with 24 penalty minutes (including 10 in eight games back in October). He was also subpar in the face-off circle, winning just 47.1 percent of his draws. However, Eller’s possession numbers suggest the team was efficient at getting the puck back before any damage was done, so this isn’t a huge weakness.
Like most Capitals forwards, he went invisible in the postseason, notching just five assists in 13 games. Eller did very well against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the regular season, making them look silly at times. But in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he didn’t.
Eller is someone the Vegas Golden Knights should take a long look at. If they’re looking for guys who they can easily swap for draft picks, he’s certainly a candidate. Luckily, the Capitals have Philip Grubauer, who should smite any temptation Vegas has of taking Eller.
An extension should be explored for him. You can’t have too much center depth and finding centers who can dominate possession like Eller is hard to do. Of course, the cap hit and term would have to be right. But it shouldn’t take an outlandish amount to extend Eller. Having a third line center who can dominate possession makes things a lot easier for your top six forwards.
Should the Capitals extend Eller? Would you take him if you’re the Vegas Golden Knights? Discuss these questions and more in the comments!