July 24 2013 06:59PM
As we approach mid-summer, the Edmonton Oilers depth chart at center remains 'one in, one out' with an AHL veteran added for spice. With the Nuge likely unable to battle opening night, and with Boyd Gordon replacing Shawn Horcoff, what is the vision for this position?
Anton Lander had an interesting season in Oklahoma City. He arrived for training camp ready for action, and the OKC Barons had a very nice lineup. Here's the opening night 2012-13 forward group:
- L1: RNH-Paajarvi-Eberle
- L2: Green-Martindale-Pitlick
- L2: Lander-Hartikainen-Arcobello
- L4: VandeVelde-Byers-Hamilton
The early prospect push was for Tyler Pitlick (and Martindale) but it didn't last long, and frankly Lander's early work was not impressive. "Invisible" was an early description from the fanbase, and his October boxcars (6, 0-0-0 +2) suggested there wasn't a lot getting done with Lander on the ice.
October bled into November and Lander (10, 1-0-1 -2 in November) moved down the depth chart (Arcobello moved to center as the roster shakeup flushed the prospects downward) as the slump continued. It was during that month though that things began to look up, as in early December I suggested:
- The line of Anton Lander, Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi hasn’t been together long, but there does seem to be chemistry in the group. Now, they’re not scoring goals but do have the puck headed in the right direction. Sure it’s the AHL, but I think we can agree this year’s AHL is extra difficult and that the best minor league in the world is pretty damn tough in normal times. It is the first good sign for Anton Lander in quite a long time, a spark and the hint of a flame.
I think that Nordic line was a key to the season, and possibly Lander's North American career. In my opinion, this was the first time since the Atlantic Crossing that Lander felt he was pushing the river. And if we look at his boxcars as the season rolls along, we can see it:
- October through December: 27, 2-4-6
- January through April 20, 7-7-14
- Playoffs: 8, 5-3-8
What's more, Lander's shots-on-goal totals--a reflection of how much more time he was spending at bat (as opposed to in the field) had a very nice direction:
- Oct through Dec: 29 in 27 games, 1.07 shots-per-game
- Jan through April: 49 in 20 games, 2.45 shots-per-game
- Playoffs: 27 in 8 games, 3.38 shots-per-game
Good, good arrows.
Craig MacTavish's first move as GM was to recall Anton Lander and Teemu Hartikainen for the time honored 'look-see' late in the season. I believe we got the Harski answer early on in the summer, but Lander remains and the Oilers haven't done a lot to threaten Lander's hold on 4C.
Will Acton is a 4line option with size and experience, but beyond that--and Acton's contract is a small bargain should be make the big club ($680,000 for a 4line C in this day and age is very, very good)--there's not a lot that threatens Lander.
His NHL performance was uneven and of course Lander flourished in the Oklahoma spring. Comparing Lander and Acton offensively at the AHL level leaves little doubt about the better option in that area:
- Acton: 6.02, 190 (26 years old) 141gp, 15-20-35 (.248 points per game)
- Lander: 6.00 194 (22 years old) 61, 10-15-25 (.410 points per game)
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
I think the Oilers will be shopping the free agent list until very late (Steckel) and the waiver wire after that (you never know) but as it stands Anton Lander appears to be the better bet for 4C in Edmonton come October.
(Lander photos by Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved)
(I am SO sorry about the title of this post)