I always envision Anton Lander like this: marking his man, covering him like a blanket, discouraging the pass and generally upsetting offense. However, “upsetting offense” has been the problem for Lander since he arrived in North America.
Anton Lander was presented to us as a “checking center” and we knew offense would never be his forte; still, after a solid offensive season in the SEL at age 19 (49, 11-15-26 good for 3rd in scoring for Timra IK 2010-11) we certainly had every reason to believe he’d hit above the Mendoza line.
The Oilers–as bad teams often do–got over excited about Lander’s footspeed at the summer camp 2011 and damned if they didn’t give him a major league job that fall. He was not effective in the role at evens (but did contribute to the PK as a 20-year old rookie), and his offense was exceptionally poor with the Oilers. Among forwards who played 40 or more games in 2011-12, Lander’s even strength 5×5/60 was 349th out of 368 players. His .62/60 5×5 placed him ahead of old men, enforcers and Islanders.
The handling of Lander last season was beyond awful, and I do believe one of the reasons Tom Renney is no longer with the organization. This year, Lander spent much of the first 6 weeks in a fog, but recently he’s been crawling from the wreckage and putting together some good games with Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen as his wingers. I have some hope the club will keep Lander in the minors for the entire season, and one of the benefits of a lost NHL season might be that entire line developing some chemistry and heading north fall 2013 as a “Bulldog 2.0″ line.
Lander’s boxcars this season (24, 2-3-5 +3) break down like this:
- October: 6, 0-0-0 +2
- November: 10, 1-0-1 -2
- December: 8, 1-3-4 +3
So, basically nothing until December and now he’s scoring at a .500 clip per game. We know Lander isn’t going to be an offensive dynamo, and we also know that the Oilers won’t need him to be with the Nuge and Sam Gagner ahead of him on the depth chart through the rest of this decade. However, Lander will need to provide some offense in order to stay in the NHL.
Recently, Jason Gregor had a chance to interview OKC coach Todd Nelson about Lander and I found the words encouraging:
- Nelson: “He’s been playing some good hockey for us. I think it was kind of weird, he got sick one weekend and he came back after that and it was like he was a different player. I don’t know if it was just a situation where he needed a break and had to refocus, but he’s been playing some really good hockey for us lately. He’s been responsible in both ends of the rink. He’s been doing some things offensively that we never saw at the start of the year, so it’s getting better and better. He got off to a slow start, but I like where his game is at right now and hopefully that continues.”
Part of this is that he’s been hanging around in a better part of town: Lander’s last three assists have come on goals by Hall, Hall and Schultz. Not bad, not bad. However, Nelson doesn’t mince words and by eye and number things seem to be heading north. In his most recent Barons Player Grades update at COH, Jonathan Willis summed up Lander’s game and his hopeful future role beautifully.
- Willis: #16 Anton Lander, 5. Picked up an assist on the opening goal and had a pretty decent defensive game but was not flashy.
About 10 years of that as an Oiler and we’ll consider Anton Lander a raging success. If he can’t deliver at least some offense, the checking doesn’t matter. The Oilers are best to leave him in OKC this and possibly next, get his confidence back and then ease him into the NHL as his second contract arrives. If they aren’t careful, if they push him again, they could lose Lander a second time. And after that, my guess is you’ll never hear from him again.