Geek of the Week: Don’t Count on a Lars Eller Breakout Next Season

by Scott Maran on June 3, 2018
  • Geek of the Week
  • Geek of the Week: Don’t Count on a Lars Eller Breakout Next Season


With the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998, their success in the postseason can’t be overstated. At the beginning of the season, people almost unanimously thought that this was one of the weakest Capitals roster in recent years and picked them to do significantly worse than in previous seasons. Yet despite the loss of several key players, Washington has found a way to finally reach the Stanley Cup Final. A lot of this success should be attributed to the big three offensive guns on the team (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov), but Lars Eller has been invaluable to the playoff run. Once a highly touted prospect, fantasy owners have noticed his elevated game play and are already looking to select him in next year’s fantasy drafts in hopes of a long-overdue breakout season. Yet when we look closer, it’s unlikely Eller will be able to maintain this pace next season and his stellar playoff run is only increasing his perceived value.

As a 13th overall pick by the St. Louis Blues, Lars Eller was expected to be a valuable contributor once he reached the NHL. Expectations were only raised once he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, where he became one of the team’s top prospects. He began playing full-time for the Canadiens as a 21-year-old in the 2010-2011 season and was able to record a respectable 28 points in 77 games in his second full season. In the following year, Eller appeared to be taking off as he set a new career high in points with 30 in only 46 games, a 53-point pace over 82 games.

That would end up being Eller’s highest point total for the next four years, however. His development soon stalled as he was given very little opportunity to advance under the Canadiens. He only averaged between 15 and 16 minutes of ice time per game for the next three years and failed to break 30 points every year despite playing in over 75 games each season. Eller was permanently stuck as the Canadiens’ third-line center and it was quickly looking like that was all he’d ever get the chance to be.

Things continued to look the same for Eller even when the Washington Capitals traded a pair of second-round picks for him in the summer of 2016. With Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov already in the fold, Eller would once again be delegated to bottom-six duty. In his first season, he saw the lowest average time on ice since his rookie season, finishing the year with 25 points in 81 games. And while during the regular season Eller posted a new career high in goals and points (18 and 38), that’s still far from the production needed to hold any sort of fantasy value.

According to our Fantasy Hockey Geek tool, Lars Eller was the 330th most valuable skater during the regular season (using an average 12-team Yahoo league measuring goals, assists, shots on goal, power play points, and hits).
 

 

Rank

FHG Value

GP

G

A

SOG

PPP

HITS

Jean-Gabriel Pageau

329

-32

78

14

15

147

2

131

Lars Eller

330

-32

81

18

20

156

6

70

Nick Jensen

331

-32

80

0

15

107

1

69


Things have drastically changed throughout this year’s playoffs though. Lars Eller is scoring at the highest pace of his career. With 17 points in 21 games, Eller has the 13th most points in the playoffs. He’s also doubled his rate of hits and has been racking up the penalty minutes throughout the postseason, which all bodes well for his fantasy value this postseason. When only looking at the playoffs, Eller has provided the 12th most value out of all skaters (using the same parameters as before).
 

 

Rank

FHG Value

GP

G

A

SOG

PPP

HITS

Torey Krug

11

71

11

3

9

33

7

16

Lars Eller

12

71

21

6

11

46

4

46

Mark Scheifele

13

71

16

13

6

42

4

24


Besides his impressive point totals, Eller has also chipped in with some power-play points and hits. Through 21 games, Eller has collected four power-play points while racking up 46 hits (2.2 hits/game).

But is this value sustainable? Probably not, because Eller has been given chances in the playoffs that he most likely won’t receive come the regular season. 30% of Eller’s points came when Nicklas Backstrom was hurt, where he got to average over 20 minutes of ice time per game and register five points in four games. This was also the time where Eller scored half of his power-play points, as with Backstrom in the lineup Eller only has two power play points in 17 games. As long as the top-six forwards remain healthy during the next regular season, Eller won’t be given the offensive opportunity to shine like he has done in the playoffs. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana, T.J. Oshie, and Andre Burakovsky all demanding time, it’ll be hard for Eller to earn the minutes necessary to keep scoring at a high pace.

If Eller doesn’t score points, then he practically has almost no fantasy value, especially if his peripherals drop to his regular-season averages. And if his past performances are any indicator, they are very much likely to drop. Over the last three playoff runs Eller has consistently had a higher rate of penalty minutes and hits, but these rates always fall back down once the regular season starts again. Despite averaging close to two hits per game in the postseason, Eller has never even averaged over a hit per game during the regular season as a Capital. The same can be said about penalty minutes, as Eller has been remarkable consistent with his high playoff penalty totals but still low regular-season penalty minutes.

Combine that with his almost non-existent power play point totals and relatively low shot rate and you get a player who provides very little in terms of fantasy value. Even in lesser used categories Eller performs poorly. While in his first season as a Capital he had a plus/minus of +15, over the last five years Eller has had a negative plus/minus for four seasons. He has also been very mediocre in the faceoff circle, winning only 48.7% of his faceoffs over the last three years.

Overall, I don’t think much has changed with Eller’s fantasy value from this playoff run. If anything, it has shown that he does have an offensive spark in him and I do think this might give him more of the benefit of the doubt if Washington is looking to promote a forward to a higher role if a player gets hurt. Hopefully for Eller this will translate to a few more points next season and possibly his first 40-point year of his career. However, even if Eller does see a modest boost in his point totals and he doesn’t fall back to his career average (before this year he consistently averaged around 26 points a season), he still won’t provide a lot of fantasy value. When looking for potential sleepers for next year’s fantasy draft, it might be best to look elsewhere, as a Lars Eller breakout next season doesn’t look likely.