Saturday, September 18, 2010

What a debut

Lars Eller's name was nowhere on the scoresheet the Habs handed out after Saturday's intra-squad game as on-ice workouts got underway in Brossard.

But you would have to be blind not to have noticed him.
Eller is as intriguing a player as the Canadiens have, except for maybe P.K. Subban, in that the tools are quite clearly all there.

Big frame? Check.
Willingness to use it (as evidenced by him taking on a charging Jeff Halpern today and winding up as the one still on his skates)? Check.

Blazing speed? Check and double-check.
Soft hands? Check.

That tried and true Danish hockey pedigree? Check.

Eller could very well turn out to be the player the Canadiens have been sorely lacking for years, though it's not likely to be this year. But I came away from a full day at training camp Saturday extremely impressed.

So much so, I wrote a big, long story about him.

Another guy that impressed me today was Maxim Lapierre, who was flying on the ice and scored twice, missing his chance at a hat trick when he shot high on a breakaway. Lapierre's speed is such a big part of his game because it allows him to forecheck effectively, and when he didn't have that last season due to a nagging ankle injury, we all saw just how useless he could be.

Now claiming to be at full health, Lapierre began training camp with a lot of jump, and he was beaming in the dressing room afterwards.

“You want to work as if it’s a playoff game right off the bat. We all want to pick up where we left off last year,” Lapierre said. “I know it’s just an intra-squad game, but that’s how you prepare for pre-season games, and that’s how you prepare for the regular season games. So you have to start somewhere.”

Lapierre started somewhere that was way ahead of last year's starting point, which is a good sign. And judging by how he skated today, Lapierre playing with Eller and someone like Dustin Boyd or Tom Pyatt could make for a very speedy third line that would give other teams problems.
Lapierre said he worked hard in the offseason, something he was accused in the past of ignoring. He said he worked with some new computerized bike system, he did specific exercises to improve his acceleration, and he took boxing lessons for his cardio.

And if the boxing lessons come in handy in other situations, such as those he creates himself when he yaps at the opposition, then so be it.

"When (a fight) happens I’ll have a little more technique," Lapierre said. "My role is to play the way I did in the playoffs. But if I have to fight, I’ll fight."

But the highlight of my day was 15 minutes of one-on-one time with Tomas Plekanec after practice.
You can read some of the things he said in my own debut on, but there are some parts of the conversation that didn't get in there.

Basically, I continued on my crusade to get Plekanec to admit that he might be better served playing a more focused offensive role, rather than the jack-of-all-trades game he plays now that finds him on the ice in practically every conceivable game situation.

Plekanec insists he wouldn't have it any other way.

“I’m happy with my role," he said. "That’s my job, and I’ve progressed through the organization to be that kind of player from day one in Hamilton. I started working on my defensive game right away because I was too offensive-minded when I got to Hamilton. So I’ve been raised to be a two-way player and I’m happy with that role. I think that’s the best way I can help the team.”

He said the fact the organization gave him a six-year contract kind of validates that position, because why would a team lock someone up for that long in the hopes he will change his game? It's not a bad point.
"They signed me long-term because they know what kind of player I am, what kind of person I am, so I don’t think they would like me to change too much," he said. "Obviously with a six-year contract it shows you that they really want you here and they’re happy with you, and that they want you to be part of the leadership group.”

I tried to counter that with my take on the Jeff Halpern signing, namely that his arrival could free Plekanec of some of his defensive responsibilities so he could focus a little more on offence.

"I didn't really look at it that way," he began. “But I was very happy with the signing. I’ve played against him many times and he’s tough to play against. He’s great on faceoffs and it’s a great signing for us. He makes us such a better team than we were last year.”

I've got to admit here how much I admire Plekanec, and I think some of his answers I related here can show you why. Most players would embrace the opportunity to be a scorer, to get the headlines, to be a star. Plekanec just wants to win because he's a competitor, one so intense that he can get down on himself when either he or the team aren't performing to his satisfaction. He's always first on the ice at practice, and when I asked him today how his summer was his answer said it all: "It was too long."

I'm sure he, and all his teammates, hope the Canadiens have a much shorter summer next year.


Habs Laughs said...

Pleks gives Halpern a lot of credit. Looking forward to seeing him in action.

Darcy said...

Congrats on the promotion Mr. Buddha - maybe the Hudson Gazette will have an opening for you in the near future.

I am looking forward to the long-term production of Lars Eller. I am hearing nothing but great things about him - from John Davidson to you and all around.

Go Habs Go.

Chuck said...

Great piece, Arpon. Good to see that Eller was impressive. Keep the training camp updates coming.

James said...

Very nice article - it's fun reading about camp since I couldn't be there to watch.

I tend to agree with Plekanec, in the sense that for him to play a good two-way game like he did last year, while still putting up good-but-not-excellent offensive numbers is probably the best way for him to help the team win. Plekanec is as close to an even strength difference maker as the Habs have (at forward) and as he says, his skill set is tailor made for this role.
The only thing is, as was stated before on this site, he tends to get fatigued later on in the season and the playoffs so taking a little bit off of him can only be good - which is why I like the Halpern signing. But I wouldn't try to convert him into a pure offensive player, I think it'd be a waste of some of his talent.

As for Eller, absolutely can't wait to see this kid in action - hope he plays in Wednesday's game!

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