I well remember Anton Lander’s first months in North America. In July of 2011, he was regarded as the biggest surprise of rookie camp, faster than before and a mature young man with a brain for knowing. By the next summer, he was more suspect than prospect. WHY do the Oilers keep doing these things? And, while I’m at it, WHY do the scouts receive all of the blame?
During that period in July 2011 when Lander was exciting the fanbase with his lightning skates, the powers that be and onlookers were just about as thrilled:
Stu MacGregor July 2011: “His effort is so
consistent, every shift. The best way to put it is he works smart. He’s
really intelligent, good on faceoffs. That really stood out for us. His
skating may have held him back from being a first-round pick, but it’s
“Lander might be on the fast track up (to Edmonton). He showed a new
level of speed that was missing last year. There was one play where he
just turned it up a notch, and he just turned it on and was gone. It was
an unexpected burst from that player”
Steve Serdachny: “Anton has had incredible development. He’s made incredible strides in
his skating and his quickness, he has so many great intangible qualities
and a fantastic individual. Foot speed, mobility, efficiency have been a
part of his program and something he’s been working on. This guy is a
dedicated learner and working hard to become an Edmonton Oiler.”
It was probably the highlight of Lander’s Oilers career. He made the team that fall and played 56 NHL games, scoring little but helping on the penalty kill. Since then, Lander has established himself as a classic “Four A” player, in that he can score in the AHL (equivalent of baseball’s Triple A) but cannot help even a little offensively in the NHL.
This fall, the expectation was that Lander would help out at the NHL level:
like Chicago’s got where they have three lines of offensive guys and a
fourth line that can play against anybody. That’s what we’d really like
to do. We need (Anton) Lander to step up and (Mark) Arcobello, or add a
free-agent forward or two who can compete for those jobs. Maybe somebody
who could come in and be a good fit with Yak (Nail Yakupov on the third
line). We have the first line (Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle). If we
can draft a guy at centre who can play, then we’d have that guy, Perron
and Sam or some form of that.”
We haven’t seen him yet this season, but probably will at some point. It’s interesting to note that coach Dallas Eakins has called upon Will Acton and Bogdan Yakimov before bringing Lander in this year. It’s also worth noting that Mark Arcobello—an AHL rookie in 2011-12—passed Lander long ago as an NHL option.
Jordan Oesterle. All photos by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved.
How does this happen so often? Let’s take this season as an example. Entering the year, Edmonton’s top-rated new pro prospects were Bogdan Yakimov, Mitch Moroz and Jujhar Khaira. However, when looking at rookie scoring in Oklahoma City, it is once again an undrafted college player who leads the way:
- D Jordan Oesterle 22GP, 4-6-10
- C Bogdan Yakimov 17GP, 1-6-7
- C Jujhar Khaira 19GP, 1-2-3
- D Dillon Simpson 19GP, 2-0-2
- L Josh Winquist 2GP, 0-1-1
- L Mitch Moroz 17GP, 0-1-1
Once again the Oilers top-ranked prospects are not scoring, in Moroz’ case not at all. During his media avail on Friday, Craig MacTavish spoke to the issue:
MacT: “It (absence of drafted players from later rounds) undermines the
performance of everything we do on and off the ice, and it has to get
better. From the minute we took over we focused on improving our draft
record. You’re right, there were only two players who played in Winnipeg
drafted outside of the first round. So we’re acutely aware of the
former inadequacies of our draft after the first round. We’ve worked
hard to improve all of our draft processes. We are more regionally
focused. There’s more of an emphasis on getting to know the players,
interviewing the players. We’ve integrated a lot of analytics into our
decision making. We’ve integrated a lot of technology into our video
scouting. We’ve got more management now in the field communicating with
our scouts. We’ve got a draft philosophy since I took over in an effort
to improve our draft record.Last year’s draft is tough to evaluate
because we didn’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick. The draft before I think
we’ve added a lot of pieces & a lot of things that we needed.”
Let’s see if we can test this. As you know, Craig MacTavish arrived on the scene in the weeks before Nail Yakupov was selected in the 2012 entry draft. Mitch Moroz and Jujhar Khaira were also selected in that draft and of course Bogdan Yakimov was selected in 2013—and is clearly a MacTavish man.
Is it reasonable to associate all of those men with Craig MacTavish? I think it is. So, with the new draft philosophy and more men and machines looking at things, an undrafted college defenseman is playing and scoring more than all of them?
I don’t think we need forensics to suss out there’s an issue and I don’t think blaming the scouts exclusively comes close to finding the heart of the matter. It seems to me that the Oilers pro prospects who are coming out of junior and Europe are having to adjust and that there’s no hurry to insert them into the deep end from the coaching perspective. College men like Mark Arcobello and Jordan Oesterle appear to be getting the push, while junior and Euro’s like Bogdan Yakimov and Mitch Moroz are brought along slowly (Lander being the spectacular—and failed—exception).
And this during a time when their development is key. That’s an issue, taking place miles from the scouting staff. Perhaps the problem is more “development” than “draft”? Perhaps these young men belong in the ECHL, but if that’s the case what does it say about Craig MacTavish and his focus on improving the draft record?
Interesting to ponder.