ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) When Lars Eller was playing for the Montreal Canadiens, he was a man without a position whose name was constantly bandied about in trade talks.
He wasn’t comfortable.
Following a trade to the Washington Capitals, Eller knows he’ll start next season as the third-line center behind All-Stars Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeni Kuznetsov. And he’s joining a team that has been trying to acquire him for more than a year, so he feels wanted.
“When a team shows that much interest in you and has a specific need and finds a player that they think can fill that need, then I think that’s the best thing for me and I think it’s good for Washington,” Eller said on a conference call Monday. “They see me fitting in in a certain spot, in a certain place, in a certain role that’s going to be defined, and I think that stability is going to do me well.”
Eller had some stability in Montreal because he was there six seasons after a 2010 trade from the St. Louis Blues. But he kept getting moved from the wing to center and back, especially in recent seasons under coach Michel Therrien, and his production suffered.
It also didn’t help, Canadiens general manager said, that Eller often put too much pressure on himself. Eller agreed with that and figured it showed in his play.
“I am a player that has put a lot of pressure on myself,” the 27-year-old said. “I was too hard on myself at times. Just I want to do as good as possible. Sometimes maybe it was too much and there was times where I didn’t have much fun playing and it hurt my game at times.”
Eller had only 13 goals and 13 assists last season and was frustrating because of his tendency to come up big at times and disappear at others. The Capitals are aware of that, but GM Brian MacLellan said Eller fits exactly what he was looking for.
“He’s got good size, he skates well, he’s got good skill level, he plays a good two-way game,” MacLellan told reporters in Buffalo, New York, at the draft Friday. “We’ve been looking to fill that spot for a little while now.”
After losing in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, MacLellan said his goal was to improve his depth at forward. Adding Eller, who has two years left on his contract at a salary-cap hit of $3.5 million, was the first step toward doing that.
Eller was part of the 2014 Montreal team that made the Eastern Conference final, and he’ll be counted on to help the Capitals get there and beyond.
“I’m going to go play for a Stanley Cup contender,” Eller said. “It’s fun playing on a winning team where they have a winning culture and they have a chance to play for a Cup. I’m honestly really excited about that.”