Anton Lander, back from the dead?

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Don’t look now, but Anton Lander’s making a late run at an NHL career. Like the protagonist of dozens of different Westerns, he’s been beat up, shot, and left for dead in the middle of the desert, but incredibly it appears the flame of life has not quite been extinguished.

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AHL Anton

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Ignoring his stints in the NHL, Lander’s actually been a pretty decent prospect for the Oilers. Unfortunately for Lander, it’s impossible to ignore those 100-odd games of trouble, but let’s set them aside for a moment and look at the player’s progression under Todd Nelson in the AHL:

  • 2011-12: 14 GP, 1-4-5 (0.36 points/game)
  • 2012-13: 47GP, 9-11-20 (0.43 points/game)
  • 2013-14: 46GP, 18-34-52 (1.13 points/game)
  • 2014-15: 29GP, 9-22-31 (1.07 points/game)

2012-13 was of course the lockout year, which likely slowed down Lander’s offensive progress a little (he turned a corner late that season) but the trend here is clear. Lander arrived in the AHL a pure defensive specialist, but gradually added some pretty impressive scoring touch to his game. Last season he was Oklahoma City’s captain, top penalty-killer and tough minutes centre and still managed to shoulder the load offensively; he was an impressive guy to watch and I know for a fact that view was shared by a number of Edmonton’s executives who made the trip down to the farm and saw him.

The trouble has always been that he can’t seem to translate his scoring to the NHL.

NHL Lander

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Lander stepped off the plane from Sweden and directly on to the NHL roster, blowing past an ineffective Gilbert Brule in training camp and winning a job under Tom Renney immediately. He’s made cameos in Edmonton every year since, under Ralph Krueger and Dallas Eakins and now finally Todd Nelson. This is the first time we’ve seen any offensive life from him:

  • 2011-12: 56GP, 2-4-6 (0.11 points/game)
  • 2012-13: 11GP, 0-1-1 (0.09 points/game)
  • 2013-14: 27GP, 0-1-1 (0.04 points/game)
  • 2014-15: 12GP, 1-6-7 (0.58 points/game)

One of these years is not like the others.

Lander’s one of those guys who has to prove a lot in a pretty short period of time. The good news is that he’s working for a coach who has seen him as an elite centre in the AHL the last few years, a coach who knows exactly what the upside here is and who has helped the player find his game in the past. Todd Nelson’s coaching tenure is still in its infancy, but if we were to pick one player on the roster who he’s really helped it has to be Lander, who is showing things that he’s never shown before at this level.

Thursday’s game against Buffalo (obvious joke, to beat the comments section to it: of course he played well, he excels against AHL players!) was a pretty good example. Playing between waiver claim Matt Fraser and enforcer Luke Gazdic, Lander was able to engineer Edmonton’s first two goals and then score the winner just for good measure.

In 11 games under Todd Nelson, he has seven points and is plus-one. After Boyd Gordon he’s been the team’s first choice for defensive zone draws, but despite this his underlying numbers are trending upward; after an iffy first couple of games he’s now just a hair below the team average (which doesn’t sound that impressive, but if you can get that from a dirt-cheap fourth-line pivot you take it). He really didn’t work with Nail Yakupov (20% goals for, 38% Corsi) but the line has been much better since the 2012 first round pick moved off it (67% goals for, 52% Corsi).

Next Season

Craig MacTavish15

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In my view, Lander’s still pretty life-and-death to make the roster next year, but the good news for the player and the team alike is that he has time. There are still 33 games to go before the end of the season; if he can finish those 33 in the same manner that he’s played the last dozen he can secure himself a spot on the roster.

Taking everything into consideration – AHL history, NHL history, his impressive performance of late – if I were in Craig MacTavish’s shoes and forced to make a decision at this exact moment I’d probably opt for what I did last year: A one-year, one-way deal in the $600,000 range with the idea that Lander would slot in as the team’s versatile No. 13 forward.

But that’s not a decision that needs to be made now. There’s still a lot of season left, and with guys like Derek Roy and perhaps even Boyd Gordon (I likely wouldn’t deal him in MacTavish’s place, but I understand the rationale) trade candidates there’s every reason to think that Lander will be given the opportunity to show what he can do over that span.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS


  • TheBirdOfAnger

    I was at the game last night. I’m glad he got first star and felt appreciated last night. He earned it, and maybe he can keep earning his respect and continue to grow as a player

  • DaveChamp

    Really glad to see Lander making an impact. I used to roll my eyes when I’d see he was called up, as that usually signals the white towel being waved for the season. But now when he’s on the ice, he’s a totally different player. Major props to Todd Nelson, he seems to have a real knack for getting the best out of his players, young and old alike. If he can get Lander and Yakupov going, and help guys like Hall and Eberle get back to form, he could be the coach we’ve been searching for.

  • Zarny

    A 2nd round pick that doesn’t hit his NHL stride until he’s 23.

    Let me grab my shocked face.

    Edmonton might be the only market where fans think players hit their peak at 19 or 20.

  • Zarny

    @TheBirdOfAnger

    I disagree. It’s both.

    Obviously it’s not every fan but I’ve seen enough ridiculous comments suggesting players 18-22 y/o are “busts” to know it’s a significant number.

    And it’s beyond dumb.

  • toprightcorner

    So….Lander had to spend some time in the AHL and it didn’t kill him. He earns a recall and has come back to Edmonton as a better player.

    Is this that “player development” thing we keep hearing about, but don’t see very often?!?

    • pkam

      Did you read the comments here lately blaming the management for keeping Marincin in OKC?

      When the Oilers management finally do something right for Lander, nobody gives them any credit, all I hear is asking why didn’t they do it more often. At the same time all I read lately are comments blaming the management for keeping Marincin in OKC.

        • pkam

          Marincin was terrible in the preseason except the last 2 games. He didn’t look good in the dozen NHL games this year. And his number in OKC after his demotion was bad. So why do we want to bring him up now? Shouldn’t we keep him in the minors until he shows progress?

  • Aitch

    I’m not gonna get too excited about Lander’s big night. After all, he’s shown he can excel against AHL level competition in the past. Can he repeat it against a real NHL team?

    (I’m only half-joking here.)

    (Damn you Willis. I commented before reading.)

  • Deported to Ottawa

    Any positive in this year of futility is good news. I hope Lander continues to progress because it would be nice to see one player develop under this management group.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Didn’t watch the game last night and I didn’t see Lander’s exploits, so I’ll defer to anyone who did.

    But I’ll be honest with you. When I heard that Lander had a goal and two helpers last night, my first reaction was, “well, he’s an AHL all-star playing against what is basically an AHL team. Of course he’s going to light it up.”

    I’m not saying I felt good thinking that, but that was my first reaction. But I really do hope that he can build from this. There’s obviously an excellent player there, we just need that player to be a good one in the NHL … against NHL-level talent. And the Buffalo Sabres aren’t that.

  • If we were the Red Wings, we’d say he’s right on track.
    To often Oilers fans think that if a player isn’t going to score 30 goals then he’s a bust… Lander is turning into our next Brodziak and I hope we can see value in that.

  • sportsjunkie007

    This article sort of suggests that we can only keep one or two of Lander, Roy and Gordon. The fact is that the Oilers should be keeping all three.

    The average NHL roster currently comes with 6 centers (5.9666… to be precise). A pair of rosters feature NINE centers (CGY/NAS), a couple of other rosters feature EIGHT centers (CAR/PHI). Oilers are one of 4 teams (NYR/EDM/VAN/WPG) to only carry 4 centers on their roster.

    It seems to me that four teams are putting themselves in risky positions, not allowing for in game injuries or bad nights for a given center.

    Keeping our current 4 centers, then adding Draisaitl and some other deserving rookie to the roster next year would give us that 6 center roster that’s the most common in the NHL.

    I’m not suggesting that we have to follow the herd without using logic, I’m not saying that we don’t make good trades involving our centers… I’m just saying: let’s stop gambling so much with an important roster position.

  • Ouroboros_Hydrocarbon

    Anyone else find it kind of sad that in order to beat Buffalo, Edmonton had to rely on the Lander line?

    I am glad he is finally putting up some points int he NHL under Nelson, but this should have been a goal parade.

  • bazmagoo

    “Don’t look now, but Anton Lander’s making a late run at an NHL career.”

    The guy is 23 years old! How is that a late run at an NHL career? #becauseoilers

  • freelancer

    Great to see some life out of him. It’s nice to see a coach getting the most out of a player. The were rarely times when Eakins was coaching that I looked at a player and thought he looked improved under Eakins. Lander shouldn’t have played the stint he did in 2011-2012 and he played mostly fourth line minutes so I think his production is a bit skewed from that. It is nice to see him producing in a similar role though this year. I would like to see him get a chance to play with Hall or Eberle or Yak for a few games this season and see if he can keep up.

    • SSB1963

      Why screw with a line that works? The Eberle, Hall RNH line has had success this season. We have had a few fourth lines that were successful. Work with the rest to find a viable 2nd line.

  • freelancer

    Not long ago we kept reading articles from various writers stating that ” coaching is not the problem”!

    Well here we are under Todd Nelson, and every players seems to remember how to play again……Dallas who?

    great for Lander……..never sulked, just played hard! He will be just fine under Nelson and probably move up the depth chart in the not so distant future.

    • Zarny

      Pfft…the Oilers were 14-13-3 over the final 30 games last year. Under Eakins.

      The Oilers are 6-5-2 over their last 13 games; not 10-1-2.

      Unless Nelson can get the team significantly over 0.500 it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.

      • freelancer

        Completely agree. However there are certain things we are seeing with this team more than we ever did with Eakins. Going to the front of the net, battling on the boards, going to tougher places. It is still way to early to judge but if they can at least keep up that style of play I will be impressed.

  • D

    The first line of this blog is hilarious and sums up the Oilers, as well as now the media in Edmonton apparently: “Don’t look now, but Anton Lander is making a late run at an NHL career”. “Late run” he is 23! #Oilers

  • Zarny

    Almost everything you have said and other sports writers has been wrong if you look at the Oilers for the last 9 years. Any optimism does not relate to their win loss ratio.

  • Dan the Man

    For whatever reason I can’t help but cheer for Lander. I really hope he has an NHL career.
    The thing is that in most organizations he might have gotten a brief look last year and then called up this year so we wouldn’t be as surprised about his current success because he wouldn’t have had any NHL games early in his career.

  • Zarny

    How is Lander supposed to live on 600 thousand dollars a year? That’s just an insult paying someone so little to play hockey.
    He will be the laughing stock on the team.

  • ubermiguel

    I was one of those guys at the start of the year saying Lander was a career AHLer but now he’s starting to change my opinion. I’m starting to see age is a bigger factor than I thought, and NHL experience is less of a factor. Not saying he’s an NHLer yet, but I’m open to the idea and will happily admit I was wrong if he continues on this development curve.

  • ubermiguel

    If MacT saw norris schultz good at the AHL level and keeps giving him such a long leash then he should do the same for Lander. Lander has shown more versality and leadership. The hussle Lander demonstrates for loose pucks vs certain players nochlant demeanor is another good example of a player we need on this team.

  • pkam

    Your comment “Thursday’s game against Buffalo (obvious joke” May well be true but it is also true that many players deemed to have much more promise than Lander did nothing to help the score sheet in the game. Showing up when others do not is the sign of a true professional. It is a small N number to be sure. If the trend continues there may be a future in Edmonton for some silver yet.

  • sportsjunkie007

    Ah yes, the last half silver lining part of the season, that time of year where some new or no name player shows great promise, and demonstrated their ability to be, “ready for big minutes next year.” This is the time of year when goal tending and overall play improve not enough to earn a play off spot, but just enough to make fans think, if they can play like that all next year, we’ll have a legit shot.

    But then next year comes, and he team sends down their best defenceman, or that second line centre they needed to develop has not progressed enough, or there’s a significant injury, or the systems of a new coach don’t seem to be helping.

    It’s the same song and dance every year. I hope for once, for once, they take a step back, and put some real effort into upgrading positions of need. Right now Mac T has had the same shopping list for 5 seasons. It is time they got a top pair D (Boychuck / Yandle / Phanuef hate to say it), any vet number 2 C (keep Roy), and some goal tending (Niemi?) It’s time to stop hoping for the best, and instead start trying to ice the best.

      • toprightcorner

        If Lander is the regular 4C, the Oilers will have gotten worse in the bottom 6. That means Gordon is either gone or a 3C, not a step forward.

        I love Lander, the guy has character and heart, heck he was the Captain when he was 22 years old on an AHL team full of veterans. as a person, he is the leader any team would want but as a player he hasn’t proved it and until he does it for a stretch of 80+ games he can’t be considered a better player than the last 3 years.

        If MacT adds a 2C and a 3C or McDavid and 2C, I won’t be upset if Lander is 4C but there better be a backup plan because the odds are that the 4th line will be a huge team weakness.

  • CaptainLander

    As an obvious Lander fan, I really hope this guy can put some of that AHL game into the NHL. Would be a real good news story for him and an Oilers team that has not seen a lot of success with development. Also a low cost 3/4 centre would be great. Would also put pressure on the management to send Drai to the minors next year. Leaving only one center position to fill. McEichel or a vetern 2nd line centre. Just filling one centre position between now and next year, even Mact can handle that right? Right?

  • toprightcorner

    The Oilers have a habit of having players get on hot streaks at the end of the season and give them contracts and they are never heard from again.

    I would only sign Lander as a plan B if you can’t add the proper center depth required in the off season. Unless the Draft McDavid, I don’t think Draisatl or Eichel should start next year as a center, if they make the team, put them on the wing until they get acclimatized to the size and speed of the NHL. Eichel playing 35 college games at center does not prepare him to be an NHL center so should be sheltered. MacInnon didn’t play center his first year, either did Stamkos.

    MacT needs to add 2 centers in the off season and I would be fine with Lander as a 13th forward but they likely want someone with size in that role like Gazdic so Lander is probably an add on in a package this summer.