Anton Lander will get to continue his quest to be more than a Tweener in the NHL now that he has been called up again. We remain hopeful that he can turn AHL success into the beginnings of an NHL career, but we’ve seen this story play out before.
When I speak of a Tween or Tweener I, of course, am speaking about that awkward and unpleasant existence between two different phases of life. We’ve all been through that growing up where we were no longer little kids but yet we still didn’t get all the privileges or perks of being older. The frustration of that phase in life is palpable. For Hockey players there can be no worse fate than being labelled a Tweener. Good enough to excel in the American Hockey League, but not able to translate that to the NHL.
To be a point per game or very close to it in a professional league is a major accomplishment. The AHL is a very competitive league, the 2nd best in North America and perhaps as high as the 3rd best in the World. It is certainly as close as you can be to NHL action while still being able to enjoy a proper hamburger or electrical plug-in. And the Oilers have had a few AHL successes in their past that gave their fans hope. Unfortunately, sometimes all those AHL points don’t make the trip up to the big leagues when the player is called up for NHL action.
He had everything the Oilers needed in a prospect: Size. I jest, but only a little. JF was a stretch puck for the 2nd round but he had NHL size (6’3″ 230lb) and played a gritty game (123PIM in 67 games in his Draft year). His Offense grew in the QMJHL in the 2 years post Draft that he played there and to his credit he maintained a fair amount of it during his Rookie campaign with the Hamilton Bulldogs. His stat line must have had the Oilers drooling about his potential as a Power Forward. He went 65GP, 24-20-44, 131 PIMs in the AHL. He was scoring goals and playing a rough game.
But this wouldn’t be the Oilers if we were talking about successfully developing Power Forwards. All that physical potential and AHL success was all for nothing. In the NHL his stat line was atrocious. In comparison to his AHL Stats it’s almost too painful to even post, but here it is.
AHL 315GP, 89-98-187, 456 PIMs
NHL 167GP, 9-8-17, 197 PIMs
Probably one of the most famous Oiler Tweeners from Christmas Past was Rob Schremp. The man who invented that NHL staple “Rob Schremp Hockey” may have actually gotten a bad rap. For all his troubles, his NHL totals suggest that at least his Offense was probably NHL calibre. His problem from the beginning wasn’t the attitude it was reported that he had, it was his skating. He just wasn’t fast enough in the NHL. With deft passing and some creativity you can hide that while on the attack, when the puck is going the other way that deficiency is sure to be exposed.
Could he have been handled better? Probably. Could he have helped the Oilers anyway? Maybe for a short time. Either way he found employment in the NHL for a relatively short time before making a career in Europe. His best AHL season was 78GP, 23-53-76 in 2007-2008. Here are the career totals in the AHL and the NHL.
AHL 217GP, 47-125-172, 150 PIMs
NHL 114GP, 20-34-54, 26 PIMs
No discussion of Tweener Oilers is complete without Linus Omark. YouTube sensation, Spin-o-Rama aficionado, child shoe size wearer, Linus Omark came into the NHL with hype. He came exactly as advertised, but the only thing that was advertised were his impressive shootout skills and that’s all he brought. Against lesser skilled and slightly slower AHL competition he was obviously dominant. Against NHLers he never had the room to create Offense at the same level despite an obvious determination in the attacking end of the ice.
Like Robbie Schremp before him, Omark had some staunch supporters that still believe he didn’t get an air shake in the league. From my perspective he had long auditions with the two worst teams in the NHL and couldn’t make it happen. Here are the splits
AHL 75GP, 34-42-76, 77 PIMs
NHL 79GP, 8-24-32, 40 PIMs
Drafted high in the 2nd Round with Stu MacGregor doubling down on Swedish youngsters Paajarvi and Lander the team looks like it had done a great job. The one thing that the prospecterati talked about the most with young Lander was his Leadership. He had it in spades. They STILL talk about his leadership. It’s about the one thing I DONT question about Lander. I would have lived with less leadership and more natural playmaking or smoother skating, but those weren’t the cards he was dealt. He had earned his way onto a Men’s team in the Swedish Elite League when he was highschool aged and there was a maturity to his game.
The Oilers left him in the SEL for 2 seasons post Draft and then when he came over they gave him a baptism by fire in the NHL that looking back upon was a terrible, terrible idea. He struggled, looked broken, and was eventually sent down. I wonder how different we would look upon his career had he not first been played completely out of his depth for almost an entire season. Thankfully he found his Offense in the AHL (slightly better than a point per game in the last 2 seasons), but every time he was called back up the production stayed in Oklahoma.
AHL 133GP, 36-68-104, 104 PIMs
NHL 94GP, 2-6-8, 18 PIMs
WHY DID THEY FAIL?
There are lots of reasons why each of them has/had failed to be more than Tweeners. How they got there individually is going to be more complicated but the quick version is that they really just remained one-dimensional as players. JF Jacques had NHL size and everything beyond that was questionable. Rob Schremp had his passing game figured out after Junior and all but coasted on that. Linus Omark was dynamic with the puck but might never have practiced a day in his life what to do without it. Anton Lander came into the league with an awareness of what to do in his own zone, but until he spent some time in the AHL it didn’t look like he knew what to do when he left it.
If Lander succeeds at becoming an NHL player it will be because he too, those Leadership qualities and own-zone awareness that came to him naturally and added something more. His 8 points in almost 100 NHL games says the Offense just wasnt there.
Here’s hoping the coach that coaxed out better than point per game performances from him in the AHL the past two years can work that same magic with him in the NHL.