Anton Lander proves the value of a good first impression

Jonathan Willis
September 18 2012 07:00AM

Lost in the stories about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last fall was another great training camp tale. Anton Lander should not have started 2011-12 with the Oilers; given his age, draft pedigree, experience and the makeup of the roster, he should probably have spent the entire season in the minors.

Yet, he made the team anyway. How did he do it?

Re-watching the Oilers’ home opener from last season, I was struck by a brief conversation between play-by-play man Kevin Quinn and colour commentator Louie DeBrusk. In the first period, Lander drew a penalty deep in the offensive zone, and that prompted the following exchange.

DeBrusk: “Anton Lander had a terrific training camp, Kevin, coming in here. Played the last four years over in Sweden and was a teammate for three of those years with Magnus Paajarvi. He came in on a mission this year in training camp to make the team and he has.”

Quinn: “The numbers spoke for themselves. Two goals, two assists in four preseason games.”

DeBrusk: “What [the Oilers] love about him is compete level. He just has that desire to win every battle in every area of the ice. Not only good offensively, but excels defensively. A good fit on the fourth line at that center position.”

The Secret to Lander’s Success

There are basically two keys isolated above that led to Lander making the team:

  • A hot start to the year, scoring two goals and four points in the pre-season
  • Willingness to compete in all areas of the ice

It’s easy for someone like me to stick to a certain development dogma – namely that players (with exceptions made for certain marquee talents) of a certain age and experience level should always go to the minors. Certainly, I think playing 15:00 to 20:00 per game in Oklahoma City would have been better for Lander than the 10:00/night he played in Edmonton, particularly since he would have been on the ice in all situations. I felt similarly about Magnus Paajarvi during training camp in his rookie year. Given that Paajarvi ended up in the minors in 2011-12 and that after scoring two goals in four preseason games Lander scored just two more in 57 regular season contests, it’s a development doctrine I feel holds up well in retrospect.

With rare exceptions (Detroit, for instance), that’s not how things work, though. Lander made the team out of training camp because he was excellent in training camp. He earned the spot. He put up offense (which every team loves) and brought “compete level” to the team (a favourite of every club, but particularly relevant on the Oilers).

He also managed the feat despite the fact that the Oilers were forced to waive and demote Gilbert Brule, a guy who had a one-way deal and had been a full-time NHL’er (when healthy) for the previous two seasons.

It’s a lesson that all of the guys fighting for a job on this year’s team would do well to take heed of whenever the season starts, assuming of course that there is a season. Show some moxie in training camp, and score enough to stand out in the minds of the coaching staff, and the hard logic of ideal development path and one-way contracts can be beaten.

Anton Lander did it last year. On October 2nd, Gilbert Brule was placed on waivers and assigned to Oklahoma City; on October 9th, Lander played his first NHL game. He stuck with the team until February.

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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 pelhem grenville
September 18 2012, 07:27AM
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...never understood why this great prospect ever played a single game in the NHL last year ...now i understand but what WAS the point

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#2 oilers2k10
September 18 2012, 10:53AM
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Lander was so dedicated to playing a defence first approach that by the time he got to the AHL the oilers had already sucked all his creative offensive instincts away from him.. Hopefully he regains them in OKC this year..

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#3 Pharmboy
September 18 2012, 11:01PM
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It's too bad he did not score more often. I always enjoyed reciting " In Landers's Fields" after each of his goals. "In Landers fields the goalies blow, between the goal posts in the show..."

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#4 Johnny
September 18 2012, 08:35AM
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Lander was waay over matched last year. Definitely a mistake that he played in the Show.

This is a huge year for him. I suspect we are looking at a draft BUST, but of course time will only tell. His AHL numbers however were pathetic for someone the Oilers judged to be an NHL player. Thankfully Renney is gone.

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#5 OilClog
September 18 2012, 09:49AM
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@Johnny

A bust already.. Wow, I think you're underselling him a bit. He's shown plenty of promise and doesn't need to fill the net for the Oilers to play a role on this team. Even two more seasons in the AHL will be good for Lander, saying he's a bust because of poor mismanagement, not scoring lights out, and needing more seasoning is pathetic.

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#6 Will
September 18 2012, 10:16AM
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Guh! commenting on a season I know isn't going to happen sucks. However, it would be great if Lander was trending towards that hardnose 2 way center position currently filled by Horcoff.

Our 3rd line with Paajarvi and a more developed Lander could be a great shut down line.

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#7 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
September 19 2012, 08:28AM
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I always laugh when fans are kicking and screaming to boot a vet and replace him with a non-elite rookie talent because he "tried real hard" in pre-season.

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