Anton Lander’s Job

Jonathan Willis
November 04 2012 12:09PM

We all know the story from last season: the coaching staff fell in love with Anton Lander after a hot preseason. At the same time, Gilbert Brule was struggling, and so the coaches sent Brule to the minors and handed the fourth line job to the rookie Swede.

Is Lander losing that job with his work in the minors this year?

The question with Lander has always been offence. The following are his numbers since his draft year, along with the equivalent NHL points total over 82 games:

Season League GP G A PTS NHLE/82
2008-09 Elitserien 47 4 6 10 14
2009-10 Elitserien 49 7 9 16 21
2010-11 Elitserien 49 11 15 26 34
2011-12 NHL 56 2 4 6 9
2011-12 AHL 14 1 4 5 13

Lander’s numbers in Sweden indicated a low-scoring forward who could chip in the odd goal; given that Lander’s primary value since draft day has rested on things like his defensive game and intangibles like character, that was just fine. The problem is that in his first North American season Lander struggled to deliver even modest offence: after scoring twice in four preseason games, he tallied two goals over 56 games the rest of the year.

It’s been a similar story in the minors so far this season. Lander’s been getting opportunities when in the lineup – typically he’s been on the third line and the second power play unit when dressed – but he’s gone pointless through six games. That’s not a big deal, really – six games is not a long span of time.

What is more important is that Lander a) hasn’t looked all that dangerous, either and b) seems to have lost the confidence of the coaching staff. Lander’s played in six of nine games (prior to Sunday). Chris VandeVelde has played in eight of nine games. Tanner House has played in six of nine games. Both House and VandeVelde are competing for the same job that Lander’s looking at right now: center of the Oilers’ fourth line.

VandeVelde has always been Lander’s natural competition for the role. Right now, he seems to have the third line job in Oklahoma locked down, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Arcobello (at least in the absence of Josh Green) centering the top two lines. He probably doesn’t have the same ceiling as Lander – VandeVelde, a 2005 draft pick, is more than four years older than the Swede – but in the here and now he’s likely a better player.

The third man in this conversation right now is Tanner House. House is a late bloomer: he was never drafted, and was a rookie professional last year at the age of 25 after finishing his college career. But he does have some points in his favour. He’s a right-handed shot, a rarity among Oilers centers. He’s a good hitter (he hammered Chay Genoway legally on Saturday); he also fought twice last year and he’s dropped the gloves once this season. There’s also the possibility that he brings a little more offence to the table than VandeVelde or Lander – he was a point-per-game guy his last two years in college, and scored 20 points last year despite being buried on the depth chart.

At this point, House is an extreme longshot, but by eye this year he’s been one of the Barons’ better depth players. He’s bright, he’s tough, and he’s shown more than the vast majority of the Baron’s bottom-six. On Saturday night, Todd Nelson promoted him to the third line in place of Curtis Hamilton as the game wound down; when a 4-on-3 penalty kill situation came up with 37 seconds left in overtime, House was sent out along with VandeVelde and Colten Teubert.

Lander’s been given opportunities in accordance with his status as one of the team’s ‘of interest’ prospects, and likely he’ll continue to do so, meaning that he has an opportunity to jump ahead of VandeVelde here. On the other hand, if he doesn't a year or two of AHL seasoning isn’t likely to do him any harm, either. Lander is still quite young and the Oilers didn’t invest a second round pick in him because they thought he was going to be a fourth-line plug in the majors. He’ll get more ice-time in the AHL than in the majors.

House probably won’t have an NHL career. That’s harsh, but as an AHL fourth-liner at 26 he will need to do a lot this season to earn another NHL contract (his entry-level deal expires this summer), with the Oilers or with another club. The reality is that most guys in a similar situation at this stage of their careers don’t make it. With that said – he really has looked quite good, and it’s plausible (particularly after the NHL’ers return to the majors) that he gets a push from the coaching staff.

Todd Nelson’s been pretty clear by how he’s used these three centers that Chris VandeVelde is the one he trusts the most. Based on that, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Oilers choose VandeVelde over Lander for the NHL roster once major league hockey resumes.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 I tried it at home
November 04 2012, 12:14PM
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Ive been curious about VdV for while, nothing against Lander, just would like to see what else we have the cupboard. Once, you know, major hockey returns... *eyes roll

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#2 Rama Lama
November 04 2012, 12:23PM
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I say without exception, let the player that deliver the most, play! Lander is a hard worker with no real offensive skill.......the lasts time I checked we already had one of those players named Horcoff.

The team and management should be focused on acquiring role players that can compliment the fab five, and using the Players like Lander as bait. We need a big imposing player ( like Chris Sterart) who can play in a top six role. A solid defenseman ( like a PK Subban) who can take a little offensive pressure off Schultz when he arrives.

We have enough talent to make these trades.......just need a creative GM who is not scared like Tamby.

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#3 The Oilers Shot Clock
November 04 2012, 12:34PM
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Lander at this point has no value. He's the one prospect I took everyone else's word on because I've never seen anything positive about his game ever. He was hyped up so much last year and the year before that I thought we had a Swedish version of MacT and I was half expecting an afro. Sadly he does not have an afro.

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#4 Muji
November 04 2012, 01:23PM
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The Oilers f*cked him up last year, development-wise. He should've been sent down and should've played a full year in the AHL. It might be permanent damage. Or maybe not.

I wonder what a package of MPS + Lander would be worth.

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#5 Manfly
November 04 2012, 01:33PM
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^i don't agree. i think Lander has just not developed any kind of a scoring game and perhaps is destined to become a 4th liner at best.

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#6 The Oilers Shot Clock
November 04 2012, 01:34PM
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Muji wrote:

The Oilers f*cked him up last year, development-wise. He should've been sent down and should've played a full year in the AHL. It might be permanent damage. Or maybe not.

I wonder what a package of MPS + Lander would be worth.

Not much right now. We should honestly throw in Linus and give them all to Detroit and attach a note to one of them that says "Here...we dont know how to use these." Maybe we could get Abdelkader.

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#7 Hayek
November 04 2012, 01:42PM
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Lander's lack of offence hindering chances of an NHL career really resemble a bunch of bloggers that praise Travis Ewanyk having potential for an NHL career.

I think it's impossible for NHL forwards to have a career with no offensive production (unless you are a goon). Lander quite simply has to put up points, even he if wants to earn employment as a 4th liner or 13th forward on an NHL roster.

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#8 Time Travelling Sean
November 04 2012, 01:56PM
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4th liners don't NEED to score. If they aren't dangerous offensively it's probably because they're so focused on being conservative/defensive.

It's all about priority: Would you rather have a 4th line center who plays with grit/defensive awareness/good at face-offs, contributes to the Pk and has great work ethic/leadership off the ice or would you rather have some gritty goon who plays 55 games and gets 250 PIM's but has more points?

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#10 striatic
November 04 2012, 02:28PM
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how about we don't pick any of them?

RNH GAGNER HORCOFF BELANGER

for the next two years barring injury or trade, there are your centres.

i don't see room for Lander or VV or House.

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#11 striatic
November 04 2012, 02:31PM
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and in 2 years if they oilers aren't a good enough contender to pick up a 4th line C in their prime at fair to below market value, then the team has bigger problems.

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#12 BleedingOil
November 04 2012, 02:37PM
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The Oilers Shot Clock wrote:

Not much right now. We should honestly throw in Linus and give them all to Detroit and attach a note to one of them that says "Here...we dont know how to use these." Maybe we could get Abdelkader.

I have always wanted this to be our third line. I think they were labelled Tres Kronor at one point. Having Horcough and Smitty messes this all up. If Hall is successful at Center Ice, maybe Gags will be thrown in the deal.

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#13 westcoastoil
November 04 2012, 03:13PM
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How about they actually start following the Detroit model and see what kind of player he is after 2-3 years of seasoning in the A

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#14 Gi JQE
November 04 2012, 03:52PM
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I don't see what others see in LANDER. Maybe I am missing something, but last year I did not see any NHL ability and this year it seems he cannot even establish himself in the AHL...

Let him play around in the AHL for 2 years and maybe he will be something -but he has never really been able to score.

Regarding MOEN: I don't think LANDER is really a comparison. He doesn't bring the physical game that MOEN does.

Hope I a wrong, but I smell bust. You win some and lose some. LANDER is a lose.

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#15 Gi JQE
November 04 2012, 03:54PM
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westcoastoil wrote:

How about they actually start following the Detroit model and see what kind of player he is after 2-3 years of seasoning in the A

You make a good point westcoastoil.

I probably am like a lot of fans (and Oiler management) and don't show enough patience. Something to be said for that...

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#16 chuck biscuits
November 04 2012, 04:40PM
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Eric Rodgers(covers the Barons for local radio)posted over at LT's place that Lander has been out with food poisoning recently-just thought I'd pass that along over here.

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#17 Time Travelling Sean
November 04 2012, 08:05PM
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@Gi JQE

You hope your wrong and then classify him as a bust?

The fact that there is still room to hope, with him being 21/22 years old means he isn't a bust yet, and regarding the fact that when we drafted him we were expecting limited offense from him to begin with I think means it's too early to classify him as a failed prospect.

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#18 Peterborough
November 04 2012, 09:51PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

You hope your wrong and then classify him as a bust?

The fact that there is still room to hope, with him being 21/22 years old means he isn't a bust yet, and regarding the fact that when we drafted him we were expecting limited offense from him to begin with I think means it's too early to classify him as a failed prospect.

Its way too early to even think of hima anything but a work in progress. Defense takes longer to learn.

I'm not sure it was a mistake to bring him up last year . Letting him see what the league is then give him some time in the AHL to get there.

It also should be noted that everyone is playing a line below where they actually are this year.

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#19 RexLibris
November 04 2012, 10:24PM
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My hopes for Lander are that he can develop to become Horcoff's replacement, a 3rd line center with a modicum of offensive ability.

I also strongly agree with westcoastoil, let him spend another year and a half in OKC, then re-evaluate. He was drafted based on projections, now the Oilers need to allow time for those projections to play out.

I've long liked Vande Velde and would have him play 4th line minutes over Belanger this year or next. I'm probably wrong in that, but it is only my opinion.

I agree that House is also likely a longshot to make the NHL and he probably heads off for greener pastures this summer.

All of this aside, the last thing this team can afford to do right now is start flushing center prospects. It is arguably the weakest area of the Oilers' prospect pool, followed by LW and goal.

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#20 Gi JQE
November 04 2012, 11:22PM
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@Time Travelling Sean

Yes. I hope I am wrong - But I believe he is going to be a bust. I suppose in my opinion it is only a matter of time before that becomes reality.

Perhaps I am being too impatient; however, I realistically don't see him somehow finding offense where it hasn't been before.

Like I say I truly hope I am wrong. But I do not see it. Not all of the prospects in the Oilers cupboard are going to pan out. As much as I would like to be optimistic I don't see it with Lander...

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#21 Manfly
November 05 2012, 07:42AM
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^at the time Lander was drafted, i couldn't help but think that the only reason we did draft him was because we wanted to make sure that Magnus would have a buddy here so that he wouldn't say "i don't want to play in Edmonton"...and i still feel the same. i just don't think Lander has ever had much of an offensive game, so IF he ever makes it to the Oilers as a full time player, i feel it's 4th line only for him.

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#22 dessert1111
November 05 2012, 07:44AM
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By eye, House has looked the best of the three. VandeVelde shows flashes of having more ability sometimes, but I also think he breaks down more often than House does. House has been pretty solid and has looked like he can contribute offense too when in particular situations. If the NHL resumed tomorrow I think right now VandeVelde would be the guy out of the three to get the call, but if 2o more games go by and House shows a bit more/is given more opportunities and capitalizes, I can see him getting the call as well. He's done the most with the least amount of opportunity. That being said, last year I wanted Hunter Tremblay over Tanner House and Ryan O'Marra over VandeVelde. Here's hoping Lander, VandeVelde and House all play outstanding and force the issue.

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#23 gcw_rocks
November 05 2012, 07:51AM
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Horcoff should be gone if there is an amnesty clause. Otherwise there is no room at the inn.

As much as I like Horcoff's game, I won't miss his contract if he is bought out.

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#24 j
November 05 2012, 08:36AM
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dessert1111 wrote:

By eye, House has looked the best of the three. VandeVelde shows flashes of having more ability sometimes, but I also think he breaks down more often than House does. House has been pretty solid and has looked like he can contribute offense too when in particular situations. If the NHL resumed tomorrow I think right now VandeVelde would be the guy out of the three to get the call, but if 2o more games go by and House shows a bit more/is given more opportunities and capitalizes, I can see him getting the call as well. He's done the most with the least amount of opportunity. That being said, last year I wanted Hunter Tremblay over Tanner House and Ryan O'Marra over VandeVelde. Here's hoping Lander, VandeVelde and House all play outstanding and force the issue.

I agree - there is nothing wrong with players competing for time. We often speak of players being 'busts' because they don't live up to draft rankings/junior performances however it may be simply that other players are progessing faster. This is a nice problem for an organization to have. That said, the organization must be astute enough to manage these assets and asses talent with an eye on the present and future. 'Potential' is a real variable that needs to be considered. As fans, we make light of 'potential' as it doesn't win us any games. But organizations must factor it in and be patient in some cases. Not sure that Lander falls into that category but it is much too early to consider him (and MPS) busts.

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#25 Rama Lama
November 05 2012, 09:26AM
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striatic wrote:

how about we don't pick any of them?

RNH GAGNER HORCOFF BELANGER

for the next two years barring injury or trade, there are your centres.

i don't see room for Lander or VV or House.

Personally I would rather watch VandeVelde, and Lander play than Horcoff and Belenger.

It is far too painful watching Horcoff bungle every offensive play and then shake his head at the bench, as if he had nothing to do with it. The only saving grace to Belenger is that occasionally he wins a face off.

Not enough from Horcoff and Belenger to warrant a NHL contract, simply not enough talent with these two.

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#26 admiralmark
November 05 2012, 09:53AM
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I'm sure we'll trade him to Detroit where he will proceed to be molded into a perfect 3rd line center for years to come. ;P

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#27 2004Z06
November 05 2012, 03:47PM
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Enough with the Belanger bashing. He' s had one bad year....1 out of what 13? I fully expect him to rebound. As for Horcoff....He is the palyer we always knew he was. His ridiculous contract is the blame of management, not the player. So let's all just give it a rest. As for who the article is really about....I do believe that Lander will eventually find his way and end up being a steady 3rd line guy. Patience people....patience!

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#28 NewAgeSys
November 08 2012, 12:11AM
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All Anton needs to do is continue to work on his faceoffs and concentrate on scoring more goals,simply put we cannot accept the anemic offense we recieved from the 4th line last year.

The 4th line is where the organisation makes important assesments it is not meant for seasoned vets like Bellanger.Just like the third line is perfect for Smytty,Horcs ,and Hemmer--this is where Bellanger belongs.

Offense is key for anyone hoping to make the Oilers lineup.We are now stacked with all the basics we need and are now upgrading at every spot possible with offense and size in that order ASAP.

The gloves are off this year,a playoff spot is expected.Antons job is like everyone elses,simply outplay all your teammates and generate attention .Then carry that into training camp and cross your fingers---just like everybody else.

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