|Tom Pyatt's team-low defensive-zone risk/reward rating will not be part of the mix this season|
Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller is in a great position coming into training camp. Despite undergoing off-season shoulder surgery, the third-line centre position is his to lose. Eller's play made huge strides during last season's playoffs. He not only increased his offensive-output during the series against Boston, he also solidified his defensive-game. His play in the defensive-zone was consistent, with the occasional jump into the spectacular.
The picture becomes clear when we compare Eller's numbers from the regular season with his numbers from the playoffs. The 22-year-old Eller increased his grade, as well as his risk/reward ratings in 3 of 4 categories.
Eller's average grade during the regular season was 60; three percentage points below the team average. During the playoffs his overall grade jumped to 69; four percentage points above the Habs' playoff average and second-best among the forward group.
His overall risk/reward rating jumped from 0.69 during the regular season to 1.59 during the playoffs. We can also express this by saying Eller average 1.6 successful plays for every mistake or lost battle during the regular season, but improved that to 2.5 successful plays for every mistake or lost battle during the regular season. He was more involved in the play during the post season; increasing his events per-minute of ice time from 2.59 to 3.56. The increased events were buoyed by his full-time employment at centre during the playoffs. The move to centre brought more defensive-zone responsibility; and along with that came more opportunities to be involved in the play.
The quickest way to Jacques Martin's doghouse is to give the puck away in the neutral-zone (see Benoit Pouliot). That said, Eller was able to increase his playing time, by improving his play through the neutral-zone. He nearly doubled his neutral-zone risk/reward rating in the playoffs; from 0.26 to 0.44. He was successful with 76% of his attempts to skate the puck into the offensive-zone, and 73% of his attempts to dump the puck into the offensive-zone. He also notched 7 neutral-zone takeaways. Good enough for fourth-best among forwards.
Eller's defensive-zone risk/reward rating also improved. It went from 0.18 during the season to an impressive 0.55 in the series against the Boston Bruins. This translates to 1.67 successful plays to every mistake or lost battle in the regular season, and 2.25 successful plays for every one mistake or lost battle during the post-season. He was substantially more involved during the Boston series as well; going from 0.75 events per-minute to 1.42 events per-minute. Eller's play in the defensive-zone definitely contained some "wow factor". He notched an incredible 20 takeaways in the d-zone; eight more than any other forward.
Eller's offensive-zone playoff numbers dropped slightly. He went from a 0.15 risk/reward rating during the season to a playoff rating of 0.11. He also had fewer offensive-zone events during the playoffs. This means that the young centre averaged less time in the offensive-zone during the playoffs than during the regular season. This number is difficult to explain, as he actually averaged more powerplay time during the playoffs.
The biggest question mark heading into the upcoming season revolves around the faceoff circle. With Andreas Engqvist as the potential fourth-line centre and Eller the third-line centre, the onus will fall on Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez to win faceoffs; both of whom were under 50% during the playoffs. Plekanec led all returning centres during the season with an unimpressive success-rate of 50%. Eller was in the 43% range during both the regular season and playoffs, while David Desharnais had an average success-rate in-and-around 48%.
Breaking the regular season numbers down even further, we find Plekanec with the top faceoff success-rate in the defensive-zone (55%), while Eller has the next-best success-rate at 52%. Desharnais follows (51%), and Gomez trails the pack with a frightening 45% defensive-zone faceoff success-rate. It gets flipped slightly in the offensive-zone, where Gomez leads with a 56% success-rate, followed by Plekanec (50%), Eller (44%), and Desharnais (42%). For those interested, Ryan White has a 39% success-rate when taking offensive-zone faceoffs, and a 50% success-rate when taking defensive-zone faceoffs.
Faceoffs will be an interesting statistics to track during preseason games. Success in the faceoff circle could go a long way to determining the Habs third and fourth line pivots. That said, Eller remains the player to beat. His strong play and obvious progression during the Boston series has earned him at least that honour.