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Dane Appreciation: In Praise of Lars Eller as the Next Man Up

A look at how the Caps’ third-line center has thrived when pushed higher in the lineup

NHL: Washington Capitals at Chicago Blackhawks David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With Evgeny Kuznetsov sidelined for the first three games of the season, Lars Eller was called upon to take over second line duties centering between Jakub Vrana and TJ Oshie. Filling Kuznetsov’s shoes is no easy task and Eller obviously doesn’t have his fellow Russian’s skill, but after the first four games, the Dane has proven his worth.

Through the first four games, according to Natural Stat Trick, the trio of Vrana-Eller-Oshie at 5v5 have a xGF% (expected goal percentage) of 68.15%, with a 6-2 count in High Danger Chances For (HDCF). Eller was even able to put up three assists in the four games. Sure four games isn’t much to talk about, but Eller has done this type of work before in the same situation.

Over the last three seasons, when Eller has been called upon to step into top six due to injury (or the stint when Kuznetsov was pushed to third line duties after some mediocre play) he has stepped up big for the team. During the regular season he’s played 81 minutes with Vrana and Oshie, which resulted in a 66.24 xGF% and a 72.75 HDCF%. And during the Stanley Cup winning run when Backstrom went out due to a broken thumb, Eller stepped up and in 66 minutes posted 59.91 xGF% and 58.13 HDCF% with Vrana and Oshie. Those are dominant numbers.

It may be easy to say that Eller is just the benefactor of Vrana and Oshie. There’s no doubt they certainly help, but Capitals fans know first hand that just because a player is paired with great talent it doesn’t mean the result will be great. We’ve seen Joey Crabb, Jay Beagle, Devante Smith-Pelly, Troy Brouwer, and others make their way into top six and lay big fat eggs all over the ice.

As of this morning, according to head coach Todd Reirden, Kuznetsov has been reinstated as second line center ahead of the Nashville Predators game on Thursday night, while Eller will return to his usual third line duties. Is Eller a legit second line center? No probably not, but the fact that he can step up and help the team when called upon is very reassuring.

When Eller was traded for three years ago it was seen as a good but uneventful trade. But since coming here he has been a reliable, possession driving player that has stepped up big for the Capitals when needed. So take this as a reminder not to forget the Dane and what he has done for the boys red... not that you ever could forget his biggest contribution: