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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