Anton Lander: The Forgotten Man

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The summer conversation about the possible solutions to Edmonton’s problematic centre depth chart has for the most part passed over Anton Lander. There’s a simple reason for that. He’s played 94 NHL games and scored two goals.

But it would also be a mistake to write him off completely.

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On The Mind

The Oilers’ official website caught up with Lander a few days ago and the young pivot made it very clear that he was disappointed in his performance in Edmonton last season. Asked a softball question about what the biggest thing he took from 2013-14 was, he opened up on something that had clearly been weighing on his mind.

“This whole experience, all the situations in Oklahoma where Nelly put me on the ice; it was a lot of fun,” he said before adding, “But otherwise you can look at those games in Edmonton too where I got a big opportunity from Dallas. I wanted to play way better than I did, so that’s something that’s been bugging me during the summer and something I want to prove when camp starts.”

It’s understandable. Lander was exceptional in OKC, scoring at better than a point-per-game pace while taking care of his own end of the rink. He was decidedly less than that in the NHL, where he picked up one assist in 27 games (and a minus-10 rating) despite some opportunities with good players.

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The comment is also pretty typical of Lander, who in conversation rarely focuses on his own positives. Even after really good stretches he’s obsessed with improvement; the disaster that was his NHL stint would not have sat well with him at all.

Confidence

Anton Lander3

Lander was also asked how he’s improved over the last few years.

“I’ve been getting stronger and a little bit quicker on my skates,” he said, but he didn’t stop there.

“Of course the confidence,” he added. “You get used to leagues. That’s been a big thing for me, to get used to the different leagues and different teams. When you’re coming back from another year you’re more used to players, coaching and the organization.”

Confidence is often used as a catch-all by people talking about hockey. A player starts scoring; he has confidence. He stops scoring; he needs to get his confidence back. It’s overused. 

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But it’s also a recurring theme with Lander, who in January talked about how “it’s a different kind of game” playing lower in the lineup but that in a role of responsibility on the farm he gains in confidence and makes more plays. Asked if that meant his game changed in the NHL, his answer was suggestive.

“Yeah,” he said. “It makes sense I think, that’s how it is. You have to play hard, you have to shoot the puck in and get the energy going for your team when you’re on the fourth line. I mean, I don’t know what to say, I just try to play my game and try to be good every night. But when you get more ice-time you get more opportunity with pucks too.”

I may well be reading too much into comments like that, but Lander was an assertive player in the AHL, the kind of guy who could make plays with the puck and dominate entire shifts. In the NHL, even when he was promoted to good lines, he tended to be deferential, tentative.

It’s entirely possible that what I’m suggesting isn’t actually what happened, that it’s an example of confirmation bias at work and that something very different was the problem. But when I listen to what Lander told the Oilers’ website, it makes me wonder if he didn’t feel like an AHL player on an NHL team last year, like someone who didn’t really belong there, and that it may have made a difference.

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Team-5

There’s hope for Lander – many AHL players have gone to have major-league careers without having the kind of season he did last year with the Barons. Hope is not the same thing as realistic expectation, though, and a team must be prepared for some things to go badly – in this case, for Lander to keep playing in the NHL the way he has in the past.

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On the whole, the Oilers seem to me to have been overly optimistic in their plans at centre, but in Lander’s case they seem to be taking a reasonable approach. He’s probably No. 5 on the centre depth chart in the here-and-now, and there is an opportunity for him to win an NHL depth job in camp. The Oilers have gambled a cheap, one-year deal and regardless of the outcome they’re not going to suffer too badly.

It’s a good approach. There is every possibility that Lander will continue to spin his wheels in the NHL. But it’s also entirely reasonable to think that this is the year he makes the jump.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS


  • If not him, someone please, because the Oil are in serious trouble if ARCO, Lander, and Draisaitl fold under the pressure. MacT clearly thinks two of those three deserve a shot, and they do, but what’s the back up plan if none of those three can handle NHL minutes? Spiral until a trade makes itself available?

    There’s good evidence that suggests ARCO might be able to handle 2C mins with great wingers and Draisaitl could play a soft mins role as a 3C… But that’s two gambles with no real back up plan.

    -Captain Obvious

    Edit: not sure if it’d be worth it, but offering a 2-way to Loktionov would add some competition to the position. He’s at least as proven as Arc and Lander. Or it could be a waste of a roster slot since he isn’t a clear upgrade eeither.

    • Wax Man Riley

      you just described the backup plan. first plan is to trade for a 2nd line center, which ofcourse can take time even well into the season. by then it could be to late or maybe not. time will tell but a backup plan for the backup plan….well ur guess is as good as anyone else! lol

    • SteelStewart

      Arco already showed he can play in the NHL and play well. Maybe not 2nd center but I want to believe he can hold his own even if it’s at 2nd center. Rather have arco there than Leon for most of the start of the year (depending on how Leon develops). Lander on the other case…. yesshh… lots of hype and so far nothing to show for it. Hope he can turn his game around. He’s a hard worker and deserves another shot.

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    I have a lot of time for Anton. He is a smart player who needs to feel like he belongs in the NHL. There are a ton of positive aspects including being named captain of OKC. He will play minutes in Edmonton because we all know the injury bug is a large part of the game today. This season is a big “do or die’ year for Lander and I for one think he will surprise a lot of people.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      ^i would be surprised if he surprised us! unless he’s gotten a step quicker during the off season? but yes it appears to be a do or die year for Anton, especially with Yakimov waiting in the wings. he apparently may need as little as 1 full season in the AHL and could be ready after that for NHL work, so Anton was to be looking over his shoulder.

  • Spydyr

    I believe Draisatl will impress us all and take the job. His offense 5×5 will be stellar for a rookie, and of the oiler rookies graduated over the last few years, he’s the most NHL ready. Prepare to be amazed.

    • Reg Dunlop

      For anybody concerned about the foot speed of Lander at the NHL level… just wait until the oil push Kraftwerk into the 2C spot. Once again, Draisatl can’t skate, sorry Shredder you will have to wait a few years to be amazed.

      • JBear

        I don’t know where you got that Drai’s is a slow skater, I think hes an average skater, can he be a better skater? IDK only time will tell, that’s why hes a prospect. lets hope he improves like he has showed to do over the past years.

        • JBear

          I also don’t even think he’s an average skater, but is actually just a big guy who like to control the play. Is Joe Thorton a good skater? Consensus is likely no, yet he’s a good example of a big guy, who can control the play by using his size and passing. I’m not saying we have the next Joe Thorton, I am however hoping we have a guy who plays that type of game. Right now we have lots of small speedy skill guys. A big body playmaker will likely compliment the team and allow Eakins to create a different type of line and attack.

  • ubermiguel

    At what point do we call him a career AHLer? 150 ineffective NHL games? 200? 250?

    After this training camp and a few regular season games if I don’t see drastic progress I’d be ready to close this project and let him excel in the AHL or find another team.

      • Maybe with a more organized and structured environment Lander will be able to improve. Perhaps Lander will become the next Gordon. Yes, I expect a more structured team philosophy this year.

        I really don’t see him winning a spot over Arco and Dr. Drais.

    • wiseguy

      Interesting how we keep criticizing the Oilers for rushing young players instead of following the “Detroit model” of letting them season in the minors, but yet we are impatient and ready to make quick judgements and giving up on a young player after only a few years. We can’t have it both ways.

      • ubermiguel

        The question then becomes “at what point would Detroit call him a career AHLer?” Are you saying Babcock would give him 100 games to find his game? 150? Guys like Franzen, Nyquist and Jurco (who was “rushed” in) are scoring at a far greater rate than Lander’s 0.09 PPG. You read that right, 0.09 PPG.

  • ComeAtMeDog

    Arco is gonna light it up .. He played really well last year , throws his weight around for a little guy . Not like gags drifting . I am cheering for this dude and dr drai will do well also .. Lander just needs some confidence so hope he scores a couple real early in the season and then ball keeps rolling .. One of. Them is gonna step up and I’d bet it’s arco .playoffs this year for sure !! No more shakey doobs is good for at least 20 more points

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    Lander has earned the opportunity to compete for a role in the NHL. I hope he makes it. It would be a clear signal to the other OKC players and to the Oilers ‘brain trust’ that patience is critical to development.

  • Spydyr

    It’s too bad Lander hasn’t made more of his chances as he seems like he’s an ideal third line centre. He has a great two way game, is good on the forecheck, and in the AHL at least puts up points.

    I’m not as worried as most are about the Oilers’ centre situation going into the year. I remember they started last year with Hall, Arco, Gordon, and Acton, as centres. Personally I think starting the year with Nuge, Arco, Gordon, and Draisaitl is a big upgrade.

    I also think with Lander, the team won’t be in terrible shape if one of Arco, Gordon, or Draisaitl goes down for any length of time. And if the injury happens later in the year, maybe we see Yakimov get a cup of coffee.

    Typical of the Oilers, someone unexpected is going to be a nice surprise for fans, I am guessing that person is Arcobello.

      • Yes, you are right, what I meant was great defensive play. When I hear the word two way I often think responsible in their own end, where as a great offensive game mean Nail Yakupov. I often forget that two way, like it sounds, means both ends of the rink.

        But, in at the NHL level this is the case, but in the AHL, it has been shown he does have a “great two way game”. As the article talks about, Lander has had trouble translating that in the NHL, for possible x, y, and b reasons.

        Essentially I’m saying it’s too bad his great two way AHL play, isn’t translating to the NHL.

    • JBear

      The Oil probably have the worst centers as a group in the league, but as you point out it still will be better than what they had last year. Underscores how bad they were last year.

      RNH won’t be bay worst than last year and let’s hope he gets better. Arco has a good chance of playing better than Gagner played last year (remember Gagner was a total train wreck), Gordon is Gordon and even Ladner can’t be much worse than Action or Smyth. If LD can contribute then they might be significantly improved.

        • Sorensenator

          I haven’t done a team by team comparison, so someone might be able to show me a team in worse shape. But a 21 year old as No.1 who has been over-matched va the big guns, an undersized No.2 (assuming Arco), a guy who can’t score even a little bit and an 18 year old is not a strength.

          Gordon is a serviceable 3/4 center.

          • Spoils

            Okay, lets do some preliminary work on this. A team that came to mind was Dallas. Mainly because I think most would agree they are far better at centre than the Oilers. Looking purely at box cars, I’m not super certain the Oilers are the worst int he league at centre, but I could be wrong.

            Seguin 80gp: 37,47 – 87p

            Spezza 75gp: 23,43 – 66p (now since everyone seems to be on Yak for his plus minus, I think it’s worth noting Spezza was a minus 26 last year)

            Cody Eakin 81gp: 16,19 – 35

            Horcoff I guess is their fourth line guy?
            77gp: 7, 13 – 20.

            team total points by centermen: 208

            Edmonton by comparison was:

            Nuge 80gp (did he really come back on game 3?) 19,37 – 56

            Gordon 74gp: 11,22 – 33

            Arco 41gp: 4, 14 – 18

            Total points: 107

            Now, obviously Edmonton has 1 less guy here, and Arco only played half the season. But what jumps out at me is this. I suspect a healthy Nuge will get more than 56 points, especially if Eakins can get his power play going again. I’m not sure he’ll hit 87 though, so win for Dallas. Arco, given a full season is sure to get more points than Cody Eakin or Horcoff, so win Edmonton.

            Gordon too is in the realm of Eakin, but did so in less games and had the second most difficult minutes in the NHL. So I’m going to give the edge to Gordon.

            Now, Draisaitl is of course a wild card, and truthfully I do not expect him to get 66p his rookie season on a soft minutes line. But, I do think Arco, Gordon, and Draisaitl will combine for more points than Eakin, Horcoff, and Spezza.

            Now that was a comparison with a team like Dallas, I’m sure if I dug around a little bit (cough looking at you Phoenix), the Oilers would look pretty good. Heck, I would take our centre depth over Calgary, Vancouver, and Phoenix any day.

            So, are they bad, maybe. Are they the best in league, absolutely not, but as a group are they really the worst, not by a mile.

          • ubermiguel

            I think you are taking a very optimistic view of the Oiler comparison vs the Stars. I would suggest most people would rank the Stars centers in the top of 1/3 of the league with a one two punch of Seguin and Spezza and textbook 3/4 guys in Eakin and Horcoff.

            You mention comparison with the Yotes, Flames and Nucks. The 5 guys likely to be playing center for the Oil this year (RNH, Arco, Gordon, Landner, LD) had a total of 92 NHL scoring point last year. Scoring points are not the only yardstick and one can argue that the total will likely go up if Arco get more playing time, if RHN improves and LD plays at all. But 92 points is a sobering stat.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            I think I’m taking a very empirical view of the Oilers comparison vs the Stars. I don’t know where you got 92 from since 56+33+18 is 107. What do you think resonable expectations from Draisaitl is? 30 pts in say 75 games? And Arco, given that he’ll likely not get banashed to the fourth line, and there are no longer any plugs on the third line, do you think 40 pts over a full season from him? Roughly that’s 103 to Dallas’ roughly 119 from the bottom 3 lines.

            Do I think Edmonton has better centres? No, but again, the point was to take what most people think is a decent team at centre and compare with reasonable expectations to show the Oilers are not the worst in the league at centre. Personally I think Arco is better than 40 points if he stays at second line C, and I also feel like I’m low balling Draisaitl. Furthermore, if you take into account Gordon didn’t get Hendricks till nearly the end of the season and had to carry around guys like Smyth and Jones all night, I think he could actually do better than 33, which was a career year for him, again playing second toughest minutes in the league. Maybe I’m way off base here, and as an Oiler fan I am tentative to suddenly believe everything is going to break right. Arco and Draisaitl could be a disaster, Nuge and Gordon could go down long term first week. But, also as an Oiler fan, hoping everything is going to break right, is about all I got.

            Usually it’s something in between. For example last year Belov and Ference did not come as billed, but Marincin was way better than expected. We started the year without Gagner, and on the second line I would have preferred Arco stayed. Nuge played the year recovering from surgery, Hall legitimized himself as perhaps the best LW in the league. It’s just peaks and valleys with this team. But I just can’t believe that our centre depth is that deep a valley.

          • ComeAtMeDog

            Arco better than 40 points and Gordon better than 33 hahahahaha. That’s good stuff. You are in for a very big reality check my friend. If each of them gets more than 25 points I’ll be very surprised.

          • So a guy that was tearing it up in his first 13 games, who then got bumped down the line up to play with guys like Jones and Gordon, a guy who got 18 points in 41 games, has no chance of pro rating that into more than 25 points?

            And why are Gordon’s points unsustainable? It’s not like he had a crazy high shooting percentage or saw lots of time on the PP or anything. No this guy already had the second most difficult minutes in the league, and did better ppg than the Pens third line C. He played a lot with Smyth and Jones, and those guys. This year he has better line mates right out of the gate. So why is it impossible for him to at least repeat his performance?

  • If Anton can’t be a full time center on our team I don’t see the problem of him playing on the wing and be shut down line with Gordon and learn form Gordon. Having two centerman on the ice for your shutdown line either the 4th or 3rd line is know problem. I do believe if given a little more time in the NHL Anton will succeed. Everyone must remember his 1st season he did not belong in the NHL. The Oilers didn’t do him any favors by keeping him and now his stats looks more terrible than they really are. Everyone should not uses this points total to grade Anton yet. We need to at times show patience like the Wings in developing our players. JMHO

  • JBear

    I believe he has to be given a real chance at the #2 Centre position. He has shown he can score in the AHL so just give him the opportunity and let him decide his fate in the NHL.

  • Spoils

    One dares to compare, but we always do when it comes to developing players, and Detroit comes up first as a rule.

    Here is a guy that was rushed by Wings standards, who was drafted same year as Lander
    în the second round , 60th over all.

    I speak of Tatar… 76Gp he had 39 points last season.

    Lander needs to improve his skating, and get tougher over all if he wants to have an NHL career.

  • BC BOY

    There are some players who excel when given a ‘fresh’ start with new coaches and teammates. Other players require the security of having familiarity and consistency. I think Lander falls into the latter category. There has been no stability in his pro career to date. Different teams, coaches, and leagues. Similar to Pitlick in some respects. Lander has all the fundamentals to succeed as a middle six forward in the NHL. This year he will have familiar systems and coaches in both the NHL and AHL. Hopefully this is the year when the comfort, confidence, familiarity and skill all align. We could certainly use him…

  • ubermiguel

    Lander was one of the players on the fence with eakins. Not enough ice time and if he made a mistake his ice time decreased or suggested he wasn’t ready for the big league. He played tentative because he was afraid. Now with a one year deal and can’t pass through before going back to the AHL I believe he will feel more confident. eakins needs to say hey if you make a mistake its not he end of your ice time, everyone makes mistakes just don’t let it happen to often. JMHO

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    ^he hasn’t given the Oilers any reason to give him more ice time….lack of scoring stats and not quite enough NHL speed doesn’t bode well for Lander as an NHL scorer in the future.

  • wiseguy

    One should expect playoff clubs drafting later in rounds to have those players develop longer in the minors . Oilers , etc . have had the luxury with top picks not to have to do so , as our most that draft that high . That’s just common sense . Take a look at our picks beyond 14 and you’ll see we are not different than the other clubs in elongating their time in the minors . If their your best option to win then you play to win , not stick them in AHL or worse until they are fully mature 3-5 years down the road .

    Patience ,or stall tactics , is for first early years of rebuild , not for ones already into 4- 8th year .

  • Spoils

    can we discuss making a trade for a #2C? Gordon is 30 so as Leon, or even Greg Chase etc. rise up, we will really benefit from acquiring depth at pivot now AND later.

    Hopefully MacT is targeting teams with depth at center and teams with cap space.

    The nation should be analyzing, debating, and lobbying aggressively.

    a potentially promising year could get wasted (read playoff experience).

    GOil!

  • ubermiguel

    How good does Lander need to be anverage 3C in the NHL?

    Using CG’s depth chart…. IMO

    Top grouping of 3C

    Stoll, Berglund, Couture, Cogliano

    Bottom groupin of 3C

    Slater, Matthias, Santoelli

    After 80 games with good wingers, reasonable zone starts, and better defensemen, I would hope Lander would not be in the bottom grouping

  • Quicksilver ballet

    2 weeks before camp and the Oilers certainly appear vulnerable down the middle.

    Make sure these kids have a good breakfast, because their lunch money will be stolen on a regular basis.

    They could always bring Smytty back to fill in in the middle if they have to. It could easily get that bad.

  • anyone remember alexander giroux? sometimes, players are just good in the AHL, and a total bust in the NHL…really liked Lander and hoped for the best, but it doesn’t look like hes got the footspeed to contribute offensively on a daily basis in the nhl.

  • Regardless of the hockey rationale, I am rooting for Anton’s success. He just seems to have such depth of character, and would be a good secondary leader on a young team.

    If the team were deeper and more successful of late, they could have brought him along slowly and given him a wing spot in the bottom 6 to ease the transition.

    • ubermiguel

      You know, I’ve heard the same reports about his character and leadership, he’s been a leader on nearly every team he’s been on (Oilers excluded). I wish he finds his NHL game, I really do; he plays the position we need and is a character guy, but I just don’t see an NHL player there yet.

  • Zarny

    The Oilers didn’t need to “rebuild” to land Taylor Hall. They came by being the worst team in the league honestly that year. Ditto Nuge and Yakupov. The Oilers were terrible and due a great prospect(s) without going full rebuild.

    The intent of burning the house down was to create an influx of second tier prospects (for lack of a better term). Oiler versions of Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Kyle Clifford, Milan Lucic or Brad Marchand etc.

    So far…crickets. The D prospects are starting to arrive but the dearth of F prospects that have made the jump should be concerning. The Oilers still have holes because none are ever filled internally beyond 1st overall picks.

    After Nuge, Lander should be the guy with the highest expectations at C. He’s 23…his time is now or never. He has to figure out a way to get it done in the NHL.

    • I don’t really buy that. I don’t remember the exact quote, but Lowe has spoken about how the only way to get the really elite players is to draft them.

      I agree it would be nice to see some guys graduate, but I don’t believe second tier prospects had anything to do with burning down the house. They were specifically in search of players in the very top tier.

      • Zarny

        There are exceptions, but yes I agree the only way to get really elite players like Taylor Hall and Nuge is to draft them and that was no doubt the primary focus/desire for Oilers management after being spurned by Vanek and Heatley.

        Here is the thing though…they didn’t have to do anything to get that. They didn’t burn the house down and then finish last. The roster just naturally imploded to last place under Tambellini.

        At that point, the Oilers were due 2-3 top 5 picks no matter what. And that is where you find the very top tier prospects.

        Burning the house down results in stockpiling late 1st and 2-4th round picks. Occasionally those picks yield very top tier players but for the most part you are getting a tier or two below Crosby, Stamkos, Kane, Hall etc.

        And regardless of what the Oilers intentions were, to date the picks that were stockpiled by burning the house down have provided nothing…literally. Hopefully Marincin and maybe Klefbom change that this year but otherwise…crickets.