Key Stat: Three of Eller’s seven playoff goals were game-winning goals, including a crucial double-overtime tally in Game 3 against the Blue Jackets and, of course, the Cup-clincher.
Interesting Stat: Eller set a new career high in power-play goals this season with three, and added another with the extra man during the playoffs - the first of his career.
The Good: There was so much to like about Lars Eller’s 2017-18 campaign, as he helped shore up the team’s newfound depth up the middle while proving capable of filling in on the team’s top-two lines as needed. He set new career highs in goals (18), points (38), power play goals (3), and shots (161), and his 20 assists were just two shy of his 2012-13 pinnacle. The 2007 draftee also reached some key career milestones along the way, potting his 100th career goal and his 200th point, and skating in his 600th career game.
Eller’s strong performance and his comfort level with the team and the area led him to sign a five-year contract extension in February, about which he had this to say:
This club and this city has been a great fit for me personally, for my family. There’s just so many things that have been good about it. It’s been good for my career. I’ve found my game here, especially this year. I couldn’t be happier to make this happen.
The feeling was certainly mutual at the time, but it became even more so by the end of the year. Because as good as his regular season was, it was in the playoffs where Eller truly became a local legend.
It started early, as the Caps found themselves in a 2-0 hole in their opening-round series against the Blue Jackets. Game 3 headed to overtime, just like the pair that had preceded it - but thanks to Eller, this time the outcome would be different, as he managed to corral a bouncing rebound long enough to have it carom into the net. What might be one of the ugliest goals ever scored also became one of the most beautiful, helping to change the course of the series.
But one lucky bounce doesn’t define Eller’s entire playoff performance. Starting with that Columbus series and all the way through the Stanley Cup Final, he provided vital secondary scoring, putting up the fourth-highest goal total on the team and potting 18 points total in 24 games. More importantly, he was able to step up and fill the enormous shoes of Nicklas Backstrom when Backstrom suffered a hand injury in Game 5 against the Penguins.
Although Backstrom would miss the next the next four games, the Caps hardly missed a step in his absence and were able to win three of those - a series-clinching Game 6 in PIttsburgh and Games 1 and 2 in Tampa - thanks in large part to Eller’s ability to fill in. Skating alongside T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana for most of that time, the second line was dominant, with an even-strength CF% of 58.2% and a relCF of 10.03.
Backstrom would eventually return, but Eller’s contributions didn’t begin and end with his fill-in role as the team’s second-line center. And he capped off what had already been a fairly brilliant four-round performance with the ultimate contribution: it was his stick that put home the eventual Stanley Cup-clinching goal.
The Bad: In his first year with the Caps, Eller established himself as one of the team’s best possession forwards - so it was something of a surprise to see those numbers slip this year, with his relCF% going from 3.56 in 2016-17 to -0.08 in 2017-18 and his possession numbers across the board taking significant hits overall. Some of that, of course, was likely due to a more inconsistent deployment of linemates as Barry Trotz and Co. spent most of the year searching for the right roster configurations. Still, Eller has shown in the past that he’s able to drive possession and that wasn’t as much on display this year - at least during the regular season.
Also high on the “negatives” for Eller is a fairly persistent issue for #20, which is his penchant for taking penalties. Eller racked up 38 PIMs this season; hardly a career high (that would be the whopping 68 he took back in 2013-14 in Montreal) but still probably too many, especially given the ups and downs of the team’s penalty kill this year, and his role on said penalty kill.
Eller’s Season, Game-by-Game (via HockeyViz, explained here):
Eller and His Linemates (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Eller’s 5v5 Teammates and Competition (via HockeyViz, explained here):
Eller’s 5v5 Usage (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Eller’s With-or-Without You (via HockeyViz, explained here):
Eller’s Rolling Shot-Attempt (Corsi) -For Percentage (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Eller’s Player Traits and Performance (chart by @RK_Stimp, data by @ShutdownLine, Tableau here):
The Vote: Rate Eller below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Given his expanded role in the playoffs and his subsequent success en route to the Cup, how good does Eller’s mid-year contract extension look now? Who do you see as his ideal linemates going forward? What would it take for you to give him a “10” next year?
Other Eller Season Reviews: Peerless, RMNB
How do you rate Lars Eller’s 2017-18 season?
This poll is closed