Habs newcomer gets chance to shine

Lars Eller is a 21-year-old Dane with a pedigree, having been taken 13th overall by the Blues in...

Lars Eller is a 21-year-old Dane with a pedigree, having been taken 13th overall by the Blues in the 2007 draft. (Eric Bolte/QMI AGENCY)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:23 PM ET

MONTREAL -- The drama around the Montreal Canadiens goaltending will take months to play out.

Did Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier make the right choice when he decided to ship out playoff hero Jaroslav Halak after his marvellous playoff run and designate Carey Price as the club's go-to guy?

We know what the fans thought of that decision after Price gave up four goals on the first eight shots he faced in what turned out to be a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Habs pre-season opener Wednesday night.

Price was unfairly jeered by the Bell Centre crowd.

As Price said, the Stanley Cup isn't won with the first pre-season game and it will be months, maybe years, before anybody knows if Gauthier made the right call.

The performance of Halak and Price will determine that.

But the Canadiens and their fans will get a look at a somewhat overlooked piece of the puzzle tonight when the Canadiens are home to the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.

Forward Lars Eller, the key return in the deal that saw Gauthier trade Halak to the St. Louis Blues (the Canadiens also got winger Ian Schultz, a gritty winger who played with Calgary of the WHL last season), will play tonight on the top line alongside Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez.

Eller is a 21-year-old Dane with a pedigree, having been taken 13th overall by the Blues in the 2007 draft.

He has had decent offensive numbers: 29 points in 48 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League two years ago and 57 points in 70 games with the Blues' AHL team in Peoria last year and was named to the AHL's all-rookie team.

He scored two goals in seven games with the Blues.

"I think he's a great young player. He has a lot of skill and he plays the game hard from what I've seen so far," Gionta said. "He's probably looking forward to getting in a game situation and show what he can do."

Eller said he wants to show he can contribute and do a lot of good things: "Play smart without the puck and hopefully with the puck, hold on to it and hopefully bury a few when I get the chance," he said.

Coaches love hearing kids put "playing smart without the puck" first on the list, especially Canadiens coach Jacques Martin who loves his defence.

One thing that should help Eller in the Canadiens' mix is his size, at 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, something the Habs definitely need up front. Scouts say he plays up to that size and he's not shy about getting involved physically in battles for the puck.

For tonight's game, Eller will shift over to the wing.

"I'm just as comfortable on the wing as at centre," Eller said. "I'll play wherever the coach wants me to play and try to fill that role as good as I can."

Veteran goaltender Alex Auld, signed as a free agent after Halak's departure, will get the start in net for the Canadiens.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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