Who knows, maybe there is some legitimacy to the expression, “saving one’s best for last.” In any case, after a mostly abysmal 2013-14 regular season, that’s exactly what Lars Eller’s play dictated when the Stanley Cup playoffs began in the middle of April.
Eller, who came out of the gate last season like a house on fire, recorded 9 points through his first 13 hockey games during the month of October. However, preceding a gradual decrease in production during the months following, the Danish forward’s play hit rock bottom during a stretch of 33 games between January 2nd and April 4th when Eller managed a measly three points.
Admirably, Eller found the mental fortitude that was needed to recover from such a horrid stretch when an increased level of competition arrived alongside playoff hockey. “The playoffs were a new start for everybody. It was certainly a new start for me. You got the chance to turn the page and start fresh and that’s what we did. Fortunately, I had some good line mates too that were good at putting the puck in the net. So it was really everybody that stepped up, and for me I just had fun. I just went out there and didn’t have any worries.”
Between piling up 13 points in 17 postseason games, and providing the Canadiens with strong two-way performances throughout the team’s extended playoff run, Eller placed himself in a position to receive a four-year contract this summer. With an annual cap hit of 3.5 million dollars attached to this new deal, Eller is mentally prepared for the added pressure that is fostered by such a hefty raise. “I think everybody’s going to say that they’re more relaxed [after being awarded a long-term contract], but I’m definitely more relaxed. This is as relaxed as I have been since I’ve come to Montreal. I’m really happy that I’ll be here for another four years. It gives me some stability knowing that I have the confidence from management. That’s something that makes me relaxed.”
Now that an expiring contract is no longer on his mind, Eller can finally appreciate what he and his teammates accomplished last season by reaching the conference finals. “That’s the furthest we’ve come. I think it was a step in the right direction from where we were the year before. So I’m very happy with the steps we’re taking. We’re not going to be satisfied until we hopefully get the cup. But there are certain steps you have to take every year and every day, and we’re taking those.”
In order to surpass the conference finals and win a Stanley Cup however, Eller concedes that each individual in the Habs locker-room must elevate their game to an even higher notch. “Everybody has to step up a bit. We lost some strong leaders and new ones have to step up. It’s really everybody. It’s not one or two guys. But that’s the direction the team is headed in. Young players are going to have to take added responsibility in the room and off the ice and also on the ice. But it’s just a natural progression. There’s nothing special about that. I really think our future is bright.”
Now that training camp and a new season is on the horizon for Eller and his Montreal teammates, the 25 year old will soon be looked upon to lead on and off the ice. And with the work ethic that number 81 has, asserting himself in this capacity should be a nonissue. “I had a great summer. Preparation has been very good. Training has been good. I got my mind off hockey for a bit so I’m exactly where I want to be.”