2008 WJC: Checking in with Lars Eller

By Simon Richard

Denmark is a small country of 5.4 million inhabitants. There are a grand total of 17 indoor rinks in the country and around 4,000 hockey players registered. Compare this to more than 550,000 registered hockey players and 2,500 indoor rinks in Canada.
That said, the hockey in Denmark reached a few milestones in 2007. For the first time, three men’s national teams (Senior, U-20 and U-18) were at the same time in the main division of the IIHF championships.

In June 2007, Lars Eller was drafted 13th overall by the St. Louis Blues and became the first ever player born and trained in Denmark to be drafted in the first round by an NHL team.

“I was in Columbus, it was a great experience. I had a lot of fun, I will never forget that moment,” Eller recalled to Hockey’s Future. “My parents were so glad and I was so glad I made them proud,” he added.

In 2002, another Dane, forward Franz Nielsen was drafted in the third round by the New York Islanders. Nielsen has played 15 games so far in the NHL. The first ever Dane having played in the NHL is Poul Popiel. He played 224 games in the 1960’s and 1970’s with six different NHL teams. Jan Popiel was the first ever Danish-born player drafted by an NHL team (CHI, 10th overall, 1964) but he learned to play hockey in Canada.

Born in Rodovre in 1989, Eller is 6’0, 198 pounds. His father, Olaf, played hockey for the Denmark National Team.

“Lars is a very high-skilled player with an NHL skate speed and pretty good puck handling,” commented the U-20 Danish team coach Ken Babey. “I have coached him for two years now and I can say he is really maturing as a hockey player, though he has to learn to share the puck with his teammates because in his country there are a few good hockey players so he mostly learned to do everything by himself,” added Babey, a Canadian hired to coach the Danish U-20 team.

A scout present at the WJC in Pardubice said to Hockey’s Future that Eller could be as good as another player born in the Baltic sea area, Anze Kopitar.

Eller began playing for the U-20 Frolunda Indians in Sweden when he was only 16 years old. He intended to play with the senior team of Frolunda this season, but he suffered a wrist injury that prevented him from playing hockey for three months.
“It was hard for me, I had to recover my timing and had to learn to play with a new team (Boras HC in the second division) but now I’m at the level where I should be,” commented Eller in the CEZ Arena in Pardubice.

Eller hasn’t decided yet where he will play next season, but he said that he is really open to the idea of playing hockey in North America. He has left his country for Sweden during the hockey season a few years ago already so the adaptation won’t be a problem for him. The language won’t be a barrier for him either as he already speaks fluent English.

More Danes to come

Eller is not the only junior gifted hockey player right now. There are a few members of the Denmark U-20 team at the 2008 WJC who get the attention of the 160 or so NHL scouts.

Left winger Mikkel Boedker (5’11, 183 lbs) is ranked highly for the 2008 draft. Boedker is playing in the OHL for Kitchener. Defensemen Oliver Lauridsen (6’5, 209 lbs) and Philip Larsen (6’0, 185 lbs) are also players to watch as well as forward Nicholas Jensen (6’2, 198 lbs).