The Edmonton Oilers announced on Thursday that centre Anton Lander had signed a two-year extension with the club. The 2009 second-round pick cleared waivers at the start of the season, but joined the team partway through the year and seems to have found his place as a full-time NHL forward.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 2, 2015
It’s not an exaggeration to call Lander’s performance this season a true breakthrough. In just 33 games, he has more than doubled his career scoring numbers posted over 94 previous contests:
- 2011-12: 56 games, two goals, six points
- 2012-13: 11 games, zero goals, one point
- 2013-14: 27 games, zero goals, one point
- 2014-15: 33 games, six goals, 17 points
It took Lander a while to find the range at the NHL level, but he’s been an elite AHL centre going back to late in 2012-13, when he turned the corner at that level. He’s been the Oklahoma City Barons’ top pivot at even-strength, the power play and the penalty kill; he’s also served as team captain.
His breakthrough came alongside interim Oilers head coach Todd Nelson, who seemingly helped Lander clear what seemed like a mental hurdle. When I talked to Lander after a disappointing cameo in Edmonton last year, he talked about the need to play a safe game in the NHL, limiting turnovers and not taking chances for fear of making a mistake. He’s not making many mistakes now, but he is taking some chances and as a result his offensive game has started translating.
At his best, Lander brings a fierce intelligence, defensive dependability, skill with the puck and a surprisingly physical game for a forward listed at just 6′, 186 pounds. He’s also a team-first, character guy; it was no fluke that he ended up captain of the Barons .
The Oilers didn’t see fit to announce terms of the contract; I would guess the dollars fall somewhere in the range of $1.5 million per season. This deal will cover the fifth and sixth years of Lander’s North American career, meaning that he’ll still be a restricted free agent for one more season when the contract expires. We may not know the money, but the length of the deal is pretty much just right, giving the Oilers the chance to see him on a (presumably cheap) bridge deal without taking him to his walk year.
Anton Lander gets 2-year deal: 925K for the first year and 1,050K for the second
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) April 2, 2015
The Oilers had leverage on a restricted free agent with 30-odd solid NHL games and they used it. Strong work by the team on this deal.
Stauffer asked Lander how he turned things around after being the forgotten man in training camp.
“You will never give up,” Lander said. “It doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t give up. It was tough there when I got sent down. I was mad about myself, my own game. I didn’t have a good camp, but I wanted to get back. I didn’t want to give up. It’s been hard work and I’m happy where I am right now but I still want to get better.”
He also cited Nelson’s belief in his ability as a significant part of his improvement.