Anton Lander: Putting The Genie Back In The Bottle

Anton Lander made the jump directly from the Swedish Elite League to the National Hockey League this season. He did some good things – including a role on the penalty kill as one of the Oilers’ third set of forwards.

Should he break training camp with the Oilers next season?

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Perception is a funny thing. There was a loud clamour about 20 games in this season for Magnus Paajarvi to be dispatched to the minors to regain his confidence and offensive game and develop into a more effective player. It was a point-of-view I agreed with – in fact, I argued that Paajarvi should have had a full year of seasoning in the AHL last year – but by virtually every measure of ability other than “total minutes on the PK” Paajarvi was a superior player this season to Lander.

Paajarvi started more shifts in his own end than Lander. He picked up more points – even adjusted for ice-time – than Lander. The Oilers did a better job outshooting and outscoring the opposition with Paajarvi on the ice than Lander. In virtually every way, Paajarvi did a better job of helping the Oilers win than Anton Lander did.

From a performance perspective, Anton Lander and his six points should not have been in the NHL in 2011-12. From a development perspective, the case is even more difficult to make.

Anton Lander played a total of 594 minutes in 56 NHL games this year, averaging a hair under 9 minutes per game at even-strength and 1:36 on the penalty kill. In the AHL, under the strong coaching of Todd Nelson, and playing a key role on a successful team, it’s not hard to imagine him playing nearly twice as much. He could have been a top-six forward option, a regular on the penalty kill rather than an auxiliary, and based on his point totals in Sweden he probably would have ended up on the power play next year. Even if he’d stayed in Sweden he would have ended up with nearly twice as many minutes on a per-night basis – he played 18:19 per game for Timra in 2010-11.

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In short, the Oilers opted to keep a replacement-level 20-year old on the NHL roster, playing half as many minutes as he would in a developmental league, for reasons that are at best obscure. They sent him down to Oklahoma City later in the year, probably so he could see some ice-time and get into some playoff action with a good team, and Lander so far has responded with one goal and six points in 16 games, though it’s only fair to note he’s been slowed by injury along the way.

What do they do with him next season?

It’s more difficult to cram the genie back into the bottle than it was to let him out; in other words, having played Lander at the NHL level for most of this season, it’s more difficult to demote him to the minors out of training camp next year. The team should do it anyway.

The main reason is for Lander’s development. He’s surely benefitting by seeing NHL players in the minutes he does get, but getting stuck on the fourth line isn’t doing him any favours over the long haul. He can play big minutes in the AHL, work on his offensive game, spend more time on the penalty kill, and just generally prepare himself better for a full-time job in the NHL. He is, after all, a prized prospect, and his work in Sweden suggests more offensive ability than he had a chance to show this year.

How will the Oilers replace him at the NHL level? With the greatest of ease. Fourth-line guys who can penalty kill a little bit are typically available by the dozen in free agency every year. As one example, Zenon Konopka (who made $700,000 this season in Ottawa) is a free agent this year, a superb faceoff man, capable of killing penalties, and ran up 18 major penalties for fighting this year. Not only does he add the fourth-line toughness that the Oilers love, but he’ll likely cost just six figures and is a better faceoff man and probably a better hockey player in the here-and-now than Anton Lander.

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There’s another factor too: if Anton Lander is in the minors, he can be called up when there’s an injury. If Anton Lander is in the majors, then the Oilers are calling up Chris Vande Velde and Lander’s moving up the depth chart. Injuries will happen, and they’re easier to live through if an NHL team has near-major league guys like Lander sitting in reserve in the minors.

None of this is meant to slam Anton Lander. Lander doesn’t even turn 21 until tomorrow, and he’s trying out for one of the most difficult jobs for a young player to land: defensive stalwart. But from a developmental perspective it makes sense for him to work on his total game in Oklahoma City, from a winning-now perspective it makes sense to bring in a better player or one who adds another dimension, and from a depth perspective it makes sense to have him in the minors.

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  • Quicksilver ballet

    I think the cats outta the bag on Konopka. Hes been a beast on the dot in Ottawa. I think he will command a cool mil or a bit more. Would love to see him in Oil land even if we got to pay a bit more for him.

  • In short, the Oilers opted to keep a replacement-level 20-year old on the NHL roster, playing half as many minutes as he would in a developmental league, for reasons that are at best obscure.

    “Defend the pick”.


  • D'oh-ilers

    If Bryan Murray is smart, he’ll re-sign Konopka before July 1st. Considering how many knuckles he takes to the head every year, he should be given at least 7 figures.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Leave both Paajarvi and Lander in the American league the whole yr. Maybe one or both are more than ready when they come to camp in 2013. There aren’t as many holes in the roster as there was one and two yrs ago. Let them earn those spots instead of giving it to them because of too little depth.

    • bazmagoo

      I agree, both Lander and Paajarvi should play the bulk of next season in the AHL. We need to stop rushing the development of players that aren’t ready for the NHL. I’m expecting Paajarvi and Lander to be key in replacing Horcoff and Smyth at some stage in the future.

      Thinking about cap space, what would be better than having these guys develop in the AHL? Paajarvi is up for renewal after next season, and we could probably get him for about 1.5 million or under each on a two way deal. Lander is up the following season, and could be had for the same.

      It would be awesome to have two capable players slot into the third line one or two seasons from now each making under $1.5 million for a few seasons.

  • Dan the Man

    I thought keeping Lander on the roster was bizarre right from the start, would O’Marra have been a worse choice as a fourth line center? I think he would have been decent in that role, up until they traded him that is.

  • justDOit

    If I remember correctly, Konopka was labelled as being difficult with young players. I’m not sure what that means, but the young team he signed with is in the playoffs, and the Oilers are not. I’m not giving Konopka credit for the Senators playing past April 5th, but…?

  • Rocknrolla

    Love Konopka, but weren’t they talking about him in oil change about how they didn’t want him around the kids. Maybe he’s a but of a partier or into the “fun stuff”. Or we’re they talking about someone else?

  • Rocknrolla

    The Oilers are probably the worst team in the league when it comes to developing their youth with patience.

    Neither Paajarvi nor Lander should have started their careers in the ‘show’. The Oil put them directly into the NHL just long enough to totally destroy their development and their confidence. They just don’t seem to get it. Remember Gagner? Same deal. He still doesn’t play with any degree of consistency.

  • Rocknrolla

    Good article, JW.

    I suppose it is things like this that have called Renney’s future with the Oilers into question.

    He made a lot of unusual decisions here in the NHL. I suppose my thoughts don’t really count for much, however, the NHL is not a development league (in my opinion) and the way he kept talking as if this is a developmental year just seemed unusual. I know the younger players are still learning but taking an approach that sends a message that we are a developmental NHL team rather than a team compteting to win just seemed silly to me.

  • Rocknrolla

    If you think back to last camp, Lander had a super stong one. I believe he stayed because he earned it then, which was some of last year theme – “earn your place on the team”.

    After the strong start though, they should have sent him down much sooner after but he and the team started to hit the skids.

  • toprightcorner

    I wanted Konopka when he was a FA from Tampa. where else can you find a guy who has averaged about 58% on the dot over last 3 years, plays 1:30 pin on PK and is a physical guy who is not afraid to fight anyone and stand up for anyone on the team. Sure he is not the toughest guy who wins a lot but he is fearless. I want my tough guy to play 10 – 12 min a game and Konopka can do that.

    Another guy I would like to see on 4th line is Matt Martin from the Islanders, 300+ hits, fights, plays some PK and is a beast on the ice. He is what Eager should be.

    Two fighters, hitters, penalty killers, playing over 10 min a game is what you want, especially when one can win as many face offs as the Belanger Triangle

  • bazmagoo

    I think we can all agree that pro scouting is still an obvious organizational weakness. Our amateur scouting is now elite, but that’s not the entire puzzle to a successful NHL franchise. We still seem to be missing out on quality free agent acquisitions, hopefully we can correct that sooner rather than later.

  • bazmagoo

    I think the problem is that the team is not completely decided on what’s it’s doing. Half way ends up half good. They need to make a decision on winning or not next year, stick to it and pursue their goals aggressively and persistently.

    If a pick is what they want, courage up and make sure the time is well spent properly developing the keepers and spit shining the rest.

    Regarding what was said on Oil Change, I heard from someone close gossip coming out of Vancouver about a visiting team’s behavior in a watering hole there. They played a lousy game the next night and lost well. I assumed I suppose that given the level of fitness and competitiveness of the league now those days were over for most guys (especially good players) during the season.

    Apparently not. I am sure it is known behind the scenes who does what. I would definitely keep those players far far away.