Anton Lander should start 2013-14 in the minors

Jonathan Willis
June 08 2013 12:27PM

There is little doubt that Oilers prospect Anton Lander will compete for NHL work next season. He’s coming off a great playoff run – he scored five times and picked up eight points in eight games for the Barons – and with the rumours of departures for Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger he’s one of the few depth centres in the organization who can be reasonably confident about even being in Edmonton’s system for training camp.

However, both the team and player will likely be better off if Lander starts the year in the AHL.

Development

Entering his third professional season, Lander has yet to excel for a stretch of any real length in the minors. He joined the Oilers out of training camp in his rookie season – likely far earlier than he should have – and spent most of his first year in North America playing fourth line minutes in the majors rather than top-six minutes in the minors. The lockout gave him a prolonged stint in the AHL, but he struggled to find the range offensively – he had just 10 points in 39 games from the start of the season, before being recalled to the NHL and then getting injured.

Lander has been much better since coming back from injury – in eight games at the end of the regular season he scored six times and added four assists, a scoring streak that extended into the playoffs. Part of the reason he’s been so successful is that goalies just can’t seem to stop his shot – Lander has scored 11 times on 45 shots (in both the regular season and the playoffs) since coming off injury, for a ridiculously good 24.4 shooting percentage. Prior to that, he’d fired at a 3-for-60 clip (5.0 percent).

Lander has burned through two of the three seasons where he is exempt from waivers; 2013-14 is his last opportunity to be assigned to Oklahoma without needing to clear waivers. If Lander is going to be more than a defensive zone specialist at the NHL level, starting him in the AHL and giving him more opportunity to play an offensive role is probably ideal, and next season is the Oilers last chance to do it. There’s simply no sense in rushing him to the NHL; at worst he’ll be there next year anyway.

The Team

If Anton Lander starts in the majors next season, exactly who would the Oilers recall if they ran into injury or performance problems at centre? Assuming the organization allows Chris VandeVelde to leave after a disappointing season, there simply isn’t another option for bottom-six minutes in the system. Restricted free agent Mark Arcobello might be a possibility for a skill line, but the organization showed they didn’t trust him with a role on a defensive line in 2013, and perhaps understandably so. With Lander in the minors, the Oilers have internal pressure and options if somebody gets hurt or a veteran’s performance falls off a cliff; with Lander in the NHL the Oilers have no options – and no option to replace Lander if he struggles.

They could address that to some degree by signing a veteran AHL/NHL ‘tweener, but there’s always the risk such a player would be snapped off the waiver wire. Even if he wasn’t, the team is likely better off with Lander playing heavy minutes in the developmental league and the veteran centre getting fourth-line minutes or press-box time in the NHL.

From both a depth perspective and a developmental perspective, there are obvious benefits to starting Anton Lander in the minors. He has not been so compelling in AHL play that he’s earned the right to NHL minutes, and there’s little reason to believe either the player or the organization would be better off handing him that role.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Flames Nation, Kent Wilson profiles Darkhorse Draft Target: Jordan Subban, and identifies him as the kind of high-risk/high-reward player that can make a team look really smart with a depth pick

Subban has good bloodlines as well as high-end offensive acumen. He is both creative and mobile, which are good skills to have in a modern defender. On the other hand, he's significantly hampered by his size and the fact his own zone game is apparently still very raw. At least one of those things will have to change to a non-trivial degree for him to have a real shot at getting any sort of ice time at the NHL level. Coaches will sometimes trade size or a defensive game for goals from the blueline, but rarely both.

Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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 Racki
June 08 2013, 12:39PM
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Fully agree. I have hopes for Lander... but he should definitely be in the minors next year to start and work his way up. It should also be expected that Hartikainen, Klefbom (and other budding d-men) are there too. So MacTavish should be filling this line up with regular NHLers. It will be a tough task though because there are so many holes to fill when you figure that Horcoff, Hemsky and Belanger will be gone (likely), and the Oilers need another goaltender, a solid d-man, the bottom six completely re-tooled... hmm.. good luck. But it can be done.

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#2 toprightcorner
June 08 2013, 12:48PM
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I agree JW, Edmonton has made it a bad habit of not letting guys Fully develop in the minors and that either delays or prevents them from reaching their potential. I (hopefully) full year in the minors prepares him to become a good to very good 3rd line centre, starting in the NHL will likely limit his growth again and could end up only ever being a 4th line centre, well below his potential.

Until a young player is very successful or even dominant (depending on position) they should stay in the minors. How can anyone expect an average AHL player to succeed in the NHL. That is why the Oilers consistently have drafted players that seem to never reach their potential and often disappoint.

I think they should do the same thing for Hartikianen as he needs to show at least 3/4's of a season in the AHL to prove he can use his size day in and day out, until then he should stay on the farm as he won't find that game in the NHL.

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#3 HardBoiledOil
June 08 2013, 12:58PM
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Lander should stay in the AHL until he can learn to produce at the NHL level.

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#4 Quicksilver ballet
June 08 2013, 12:59PM
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Not so quick on Klefbom there Racki. Maybe his quickness/abilities will mesh well with this lineup. Not everyone needs to spend part or all of a season in the A. I figure he has a good shot at pushing someone out of their place in this admittedly weak bluelineman group. The Oilers are/have been all about, learning on the fly, pick things up as you go for kids who're close enough to NHL ready. Figure he can be every bit as good as the Kings Muzzin kid right out of the gate.

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#5 DSF
June 08 2013, 01:06PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Not so quick on Klefbom there Racki. Maybe his quickness/abilities will mesh well with this lineup. Not everyone needs to spend part or all of a season in the A. I figure he has a good shot at pushing someone out of their place in this admittedly weak bluelineman group. The Oilers are/have been all about, learning on the fly, pick things up as you go for kids who're close enough to NHL ready. Figure he can be every bit as good as the Kings Muzzin kid right out of the gate.

Muzzin spent 2 1/2 seasons in the AHL.

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#6 Quicksilver ballet
June 08 2013, 01:09PM
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Early word on the street for the Oilers depth chart at center, come training camp.

RNH, even though he may not be 100% till Christmas

Steven Weiss, a short 2 or 3 yr deal to see if there's a fit.

MacKinnon/Barkov, yeah, MacTavish is going big.

Steve Ott, cost is Paajarvi and Tuebert.

Wellwood.

Lander.

Me, but i'd be suspended a lot by Shanny.

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#7 Quicksilver ballet
June 08 2013, 01:12PM
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DSF wrote:

Muzzin spent 2 1/2 seasons in the AHL.

Klefbom has been playing with adults for more than a year as well. He'll be better than Muzzin longterm, but I figure he can have the similar impact that Muzzin had to the lineup right away, hopefully without that additional 2 1/2 yr wait.

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#8 RexLibris
June 08 2013, 01:17PM
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Read the title and had an answer. Decided to read the article in case other points might change my mind. In the end I have the same answer as before:

Yes.

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#9 DSF
June 08 2013, 01:21PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Klefbom has been playing with adults for more than a year as well. He'll be better than Muzzin longterm, but I figure he can have the similar impact that Muzzin had to the lineup right away, hopefully without that additional 2 1/2 yr wait.

Klefbom has played a total of 67 games over the past THREE seasons.

Muzzin has played 90 games THIS season.

While I expect, as you do, that Klefbom has a higher ceiling, expecting a 19 year old to step in and perform at a high level after missing most of the last two seasons to injury might be a bit of a stretch.

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#10 Racki
June 08 2013, 01:28PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Klefbom has been playing with adults for more than a year as well. He'll be better than Muzzin longterm, but I figure he can have the similar impact that Muzzin had to the lineup right away, hopefully without that additional 2 1/2 yr wait.

The point on Klefbom was that he missed a huge chunk of last season due to the shoulder injury, yet a lot of people have him inked into the line up. I'd rather see MacTavish approach it as though Klefbom will be down in the minors a bit, not only rehabilitating from the surgery, but learning the North American game.

There is a chance he'll be able to jump right in up here, right out of camp. However, I think too often we assume a guy will be good to go, then our GM is left with his you know what in his hands scrambling to find someone who will work better when they could have been better prepared to start the year. So I think Klefbom should be starting in the AHL, until he shows there he's ready for the NHL.

You think those 11 games he spent "playing against adults" last year was enough, or the 33 before it (or 23 the first year)? Why wasn't it enough for Paajarvi (who played more in SEL), or even Lander (who also played more in the SEL, even though he doesn't quite have the draft clout as Klefbom).

I'm sure Klefbom's a quick learner, but I think to not set him up for failure, the best choice would be to have a guy in that place already doing the job, and let Klefbom be called up when he shows that the AHL has nothing to really offer him, or during an injury.

It very well be game #3 or 4 or what not that the Oilers discover that, but I think the position shouldn't be his to lose. We should get away from that old mentality and let guys work their butt off in the AHL and show they're ready to play here, in my opinion... even if they prove it almost immediately (in which case a callup would happen).

It's pretty crazy to me too that a lot of excitement over him was generated DURING his injury.. I mean, yah, he was always someone people looked forward to here.. but more and more people started to get on board with him being NHL ready while he wasn't even playing. For the record, I have high hopes for him, so not saying he's a bad prospect.. just saying the Oilers need to do this the right way.

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#11 DSF
June 08 2013, 01:35PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Early word on the street for the Oilers depth chart at center, come training camp.

RNH, even though he may not be 100% till Christmas

Steven Weiss, a short 2 or 3 yr deal to see if there's a fit.

MacKinnon/Barkov, yeah, MacTavish is going big.

Steve Ott, cost is Paajarvi and Tuebert.

Wellwood.

Lander.

Me, but i'd be suspended a lot by Shanny.

I'd wager Weiss ends up in Toronto (he's from there) who have been looking for a first line C forever.

With the emergence of Kadri, I would also think Bozak and Grabovksi may shake loose there so they would both be decent targets for the Oilers at #2C.

If I were running the Oilers I would make a hard push for Grabovksi.

He's coming off a tough season and is paid a little too much but maybe the Leafs would look at Hemsky + in return.

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#12 Quicksilver ballet
June 08 2013, 01:41PM
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@Racki

It very well be game #3 or 4 or what not that the Oilers discover that, but I think the position shouldn't be his to lose. We should get away from that old mentality and let guys work their butt off in the AHL and show they're ready to play here, in my opinion... even if they prove it almost immediately (in which case a callup would happen).

There's plenty of argument for either path. It won't be long till Oiler fan finds out.

You last point, while I agree this should be a constant in a strong organization, Edmonton isn't anywhere near close to that. This is undeniably a B market. B markets rarely have the opportunity to have a strong AHL affiliate to go along with a strong parent club. From what I remember from the glory days, Nova Scotia wasn't the strongest of organizations.

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#13 Klima's Mullet
June 08 2013, 01:48PM
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DSF wrote:

I'd wager Weiss ends up in Toronto (he's from there) who have been looking for a first line C forever.

With the emergence of Kadri, I would also think Bozak and Grabovksi may shake loose there so they would both be decent targets for the Oilers at #2C.

If I were running the Oilers I would make a hard push for Grabovksi.

He's coming off a tough season and is paid a little too much but maybe the Leafs would look at Hemsky + in return.

Hemsky + for Grabovski would also free up Gagner and the #7 for a #1 D via trade

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#14 DSF
June 08 2013, 02:01PM
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Klima's Mullet wrote:

Hemsky + for Grabovski would also free up Gagner and the #7 for a #1 D via trade

Yep and it's likely Gagner is going to want close to Grabovski money in any event.

Win-win.

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#15 Racki
June 08 2013, 02:03PM
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@Quicksilver ballet

Times have vastly changed since those years.. so I wouldn't be looking back to then at all (looking back has been getting us into trouble). The formula then is nowhere near the formula now. The economy is vastly different. It's comparing apples to oranges, at this point.

For years, the Oilers kicked their AHL team around, often piggy backing off of another team's AHL team (but that's a whole other topic). The Barons are back-to-back Western Conference finalists... the Oilers are certainly trying to take a page from teams like the Detroit Red Wings , putting more focus on the AHL team and developing players the "right way" wherever possible.

Forbes' team valuations show that the Oilers are one of the top income teams in the league (6th or 7th in the NHL). Small city, yes... big hockey following, however, when compared to a lot of other teams not named Toronto, Montreal, New York, Vancouver. We also have a billionaire owner pumping money into this team who is willing to spend to the NHL cap.. PLUS bury guys, buyout guys, and overpay in the AHL. So... yah, we do have a market that can sustain a solid AHL team and NHL team. Most of those guys in the AHL are earning AHL paycheques. It isn't a huge deal for Daryl Moneybags McGee lol.

We've seen the outcome of rushing guys too soon. Not only can it be hard on the player's career, but it's hard on the team to have guys in big roles taking minutes when they aren't ready. It leads to losses. The team needs to start winning. The AHL is the development league, not the NHL (for the most part).

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#16 David S
June 08 2013, 02:03PM
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Klima's Mullet wrote:

Hemsky + for Grabovski would also free up Gagner and the #7 for a #1 D via trade

Dear god. Please make it stop.

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#17 Racki
June 08 2013, 02:07PM
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Oilers are holding a presser in 2 hours.. my money is on them announcing Paul Maurice as "Associate Coach" with Ralph Krueger.

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#18 @Oilanderp
June 08 2013, 02:14PM
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Remember that last four years when you would read articles like this, completely agree with it, and yet you knew that the Oilers would do the exact opposite precisely because it made so much sense?

Yeah. Thank heavens THAT is over with! *crosses fingers*

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#19 Sanaa Montana
June 08 2013, 02:30PM
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@David S

Dear David S,

Please stop.

Thanks

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#20 Racki
June 08 2013, 02:37PM
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New associate coach? Hall new captain? Hemsky traded? Wonder what the big news is coming up at 4pm today..

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#21 Halfwise
June 08 2013, 02:57PM
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Before Lander got here as a rookie I believed his success in Sweden made him likely to be a contributor in the NHL.

From what happened next I learned to be more realistic about what to expect from a rookie.

As for the draft, it's fair to say that GMs over-value draft picks at the draft compared to actual NHL players. Maybe we do as fans, as well. The opposite happens at the trade deadline.

It would be perfectly acceptable to me if MacT left the draft with actual NHL players (replacement level and up) and no draft picks. And if we are out of the race by the trade deadline in 2014, trade players for picks.

That is what ST should have done, and I believe that the losing streak that began after the 2013 deadline was the team giving up on management, seeing that there was no reason for them to work any harder than the boss was working.

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#22 Racki
June 08 2013, 03:28PM
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Dallas Eakins expected to be named head coach (and Krueger out)

Edit: So Krueger was indeed fired, but no replacement named yet. It's expected to be Eakins, but a deal is "close" but not finalized yet with whomever the coach is.

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#23 NewAgeSys
June 08 2013, 05:22PM
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Anton is in the same boat as everyone else,do your homework and learn the system the Oilers use,then work on it until it is second nature,put in the extra time,find ways to claw your way there,people do it so Lander can do it,produce as asked and things will work out,be prepared,dont carry unrealistic expectations of yourself,if they ask you to score and you dont,let it go and regroup,go back and work harder on your system understanding and have at it again.

When you get the chance do what it takes,it is a simple formula,learn to hate your opponents,because its really them screwing you not you or the team letting you down,use your system knowledge and teammates to make sure your opponents dont steal your chance to make it,hate the men you play against because of what they can take away from you not because of who they are or what they may or may not do.

If we need a 20 goal scorer we need a goal every 4 games and that is that,if you cant do that then you will be replaced ASAP.

There are simple baselines players can follow and I am sure the Oilers give them clear objectives to work with.

Light up training camp and then lets talk.Lets see production on demand.Pressure is a part of the game.

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#24 OilLeak
June 09 2013, 01:15PM
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David S wrote:

Dear god. Please make it stop.

I like the Hemsky+ for Grabovski, frees up cap space for the leafs and gives the Oilers a tough minute 2nd/3rd line center with Horcoff leaving town. Ignore the point totals for Grabovski this past season, Carlyle is a tool and used him poorly. Grabovski is the real deal.

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