- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2018

For the first seven years of his career, Lars Eller just tried to find a role. After being traded from St. Louis to the Montreal Canadiens, Eller was cycled throughout the lineup, never finding stability.

But when he was traded to Washington in June 2016, things changed. Eller found the consistency he was looking for — sticking as the Capitals’ third-line center.

And now, Eller is set to be with Washington for the foreseeable future.

Eller and the Capitals agreed to a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension Saturday, months ahead of free agency. Eller was set to be an unrestricted free agent, but passed up the opportunity so he could stay in the District.

“Looking at the options, I wanted to stay here,” Eller said. “Like I said before, it’s a good fit for me on the team. I think the team is going to be competitive – not just this year, but the next couple of years with the core that they have. … So there was just a lot of things that made sense for me to try to strike a deal and I think when both sides found out that there was common ground then it made sense to get it done.”

Eller, 28, has been one of the most consistent players for the Capitals this season. Through 53 games, Eller already has 28 points — two away from his career-high. He has scored 11 goals and recorded 17 assists.

At a $3.5 million annual salary, Eller will make the same amount as he has the last four years. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan called the contract a “good price” for a third-line center.

The deal also means the Capitals have three of their four centers tied up until 2020, when center Nicklas Backstrom’s deal expires. Fourth-line center Jay Beagle is set to be a free agent this offseason.

“Everybody in the league is dying for centermen,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “And we have a lot of them. … I think every good team, it doesn’t matter what sport, if you’re showing up the middle, you’ve got a chance.”

Trotz said Eller has played with a lot of confidence and determination in his game this season. He added Eller has a “good comfort level” with how he plays and with his teammates. Eller, Trotz said, knows “it’s not paramount” that he needs to be the only player to produce, which has allowed him to find a comfort level. 

Eller said his extension came together quickly over when discussions started in the past few days. The Capitals rarely extend players in the middle of the season, but MacLellan said “it’s not from a lack of effort.”

“I think he’s been great,” MacLellan said of Eller. “… This year, I think he’s taken his game probably up a notch. There’s a little more offense involved. He’s playing more second power play. So, he’s done really well. He’s having a good year, and I anticipate it to be like that going forward.”

The Capitals traded two second-round picks to acquire Eller from the Canadiens in 2016. Eller helped stabilize Washington’s third-line and Eller found a nice chemistry with Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky. Eller had 25 points (12 goals and 13 assists) in his first year with the Capitals.

This year, Eller has seen his linemates rotate throughout the season, though he’s still primarily played with Connolly and Burakovsky. Even with the changes, Eller has remained productive.

Eller said he’s starting to meet his own expectations.

“I think I’ve grown a lot since I came here,” Eller said. “Part of that is being on a good team with a good culture, good players you can learn from and watch and I wanted to continue to be a part of that.”

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