We often associate Anton Lander with the concept of rushing
a prospect along too quickly for his development, but I’m not sure this is
entirely fair. Make no mistake, the decision to keep him in the NHL for 56
games in 2011-2012 was reckless and definitely evidence of rushing Lander
along, however that one decision is an outlier when it comes to the patience the
Oilers have shown to the Swedish center.
The Oilers drafted Lander in 2009 knowing that this player
had a reputation as both a leader and a gifted defensive pivot. His offense
was non-existent in the SEL in his draft year, a very modest ten points in 47
games. The team allowed him to keep developing in Europe playing against pros.
In his draft+1 year those ten points became 16 points in 49 games. Again, Lander stayed another season in Europe
playing professionally at an age when most Canadian kids are still in junior.
In his daft+2 year those 16 points turned to 26 points in 49 games.
The club let him develop in the Swedish Elite League for two
seasons beyond his draft, playing professionally where his reputation as a
natural leader only grew. I don’t blame them for thinking that a 20 year old
kid with, at that time, four years of pro experience would have been ready to play
a bottom-six role on the club in 2011-2012. I DO blame them for continuing to
think that until Lander had played 56 miserable games for them that season.
The patience that they showed letting him develop in Europe
was very much undone by that move, but they didn’t cut bait or trade him. The
Oil kept at it with him. They continued to let him mature in the AHL.
From very humble point totals to begin with Lander
eventually grew to be one of the top offensive players on his team, and
eventually a point per game player in the American Hockey League.
Lander earned NHL games in every season that he’s been in
North America but things never seemed to break right for him.
AHL 2012-2013 47GP 9-11-20
NHL 2012-2013 11GP, 0-1-1
AHL 2013-2014 46GP, 18-34-52
NHL 2013-2014 27GP, 0-1-1
There’s no way to look at his production in the NHL over
that time without raising an eyebrow. Up to that point he has played 94 NHL
games and produced a combined eight points.
But he kept earning shots and the Oilers kept giving them to
Last year at training camp I have to say that Anton Lander
looked like a broken man. Now maybe body language means something to you and
maybe you think it’s a load of brown bananas, but I watched every available
second of the preseason and it looked like Lander had resigned himself to going
back to OKC. And he did.
He was put on waivers, went unclaimed (another reason we shouldn’t
worry about waivers for the few waiver eligible guys Edmonton has this year),
and began his season yet again in Oklahoma under Todd Nelson. The coach, who in
my imagination drives a sweet Pontiac Firebird, seemed to keep getting the most
out of Lander and again he produced well in the AHL. Then when Nelson came up
to the NHL he took his number one center with him and finally
Lander started to produce like an NHL player.
Here are the AHL/NHL splits for last season.
AHL 2014-2015 29GP, 9-22-31
NHL 2014-2015 38GP, 6-14-20
He would follow that up with seven points in eight games for Sweden at the World Hockey Championships.
Last year represented Lander’s NHL coming out party. His
scoring pace suggests there might have been a 40 point season possible from him
and his shooting percentage wasn’t off the charts. Actually, his 5v5 shooting
percentage was an abnormally low 2.27%. Where he excelled was on the PP, where
he was shooting the lights out at an inflated 26.7sh%. There’s no question that
Lander looked like he was extremely comfortable on the Nelson power play. I
wonder how well he will look on the PP under McLellan, or if he will get the
opportunity to play there at all.
At any rate, it looks as if Anton Lander established that he
could play in the NHL as a regular and it was just in time, too. Patience with
prospects is important, but the facts are that the longer a prospect takes in
the AHL the less likely they are to become NHL regulars. That might seem wrong
because we’ve been told about the Detroit model for the last ten years but some
research shows the breakdown of AHL players who become NHL regulars (200+ games
in the NHL) based on age when they were AHL regulars. The older one is as an
AHL regular the less likely they ever become NHL players is and the biggest
drop off is between the ages of 22 and 23.
This is the piece from Josh Weissbock that has the research and is the source of the image above.
For someone like Lander, who was 23 years old and an AHL regular last year, the
numbers suggest that the chances of him becoming an NHL regular were just
12.45%. If he ends up in the AHL again this coming season that drops to less
than 10%. This goes back to my original thesis, that the Oilers have been
patient with Lander despite their reputation to the contrary. He is of the age
that prospects stop being prospects. Happily it seems he might have finally
found his game at the NHL level.
Moving forward I’m not sure what to expect from Lander. A significant
chunk of his scoring last year came on the power play and I don’t know if any
coach other than Todd Nelson would have believed in Lander enough to give him
those opportunities. The Oilers will have McDavid and potentially Draisaitl who
they could add to the list of players getting PP time so I won’t say Lander is
a lock to get ice time on the man-advantage this season.
He is potentially due for an upgrade 5v5 as his most common
linemate last year was Matt Fraser. He could be flanked by Draisaitl and
Purcell on a third scoring line that could end up getting lighter
opposition because defenses have to focus on the top-two lines. 5v5 it’s really
not a bad spot to be in.
I’m happy for the not so young Lander (already 24
years old). He’s a more mature player than he was when he arrived to the
NHL with a reputation for that very same maturity. He appears to be as
confident as ever, and he should be. He looks like the third line
center of the Edmonton Oilers. That’s something that’s taken him a long time to earn.