Yesterday's June 15 deadline for signing prospects from Europe has come and gone without the Oilers coming to terms with Anton Lander. Thus the Oilers come out of Sweden with the higher rated of their two prize prospects, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, locked up for 2010-11, while his once-and-future teammate Lander will play at home for at least one more season.
By no means is this all bad news, as the two parties had meaningful discussions before the decision was made that Lander would play another season - his fourth! - with Timrå in the Elitserien. Apparently the Oilers offered Lander a solid three-year entry-level deal which the Swedish prospect turned down. The always-dodgy Google Translator attributes this comment to Lander:
"It's my dream to sign a NHL contract so it is clear that it was not easy to say no. But then you should feel ready too."
The first and best "good news" from this quote is the revelation of Lander's dream. When the Copper & Blue interviewed Anton in March, it was less clear that the NHL was his ultimate objective:
"Most importantly I want to feel ready before I'll go, IF I'll go. People in North America sometimes seems to take for granted that you want to go at all costs."
Now he just talks about not quite being ready. Which is probably true, given that he's just turned 19. It's mighty rare for a second round pick (Lander went 40th overall in 2009) to be ready for the NHL as an underager - off the top of my head I can name Patrice Bergeron, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Milan Lucic, and Ryan O'Reilly as recent second-rounders who made the show ahead of their time, but it's a small group. The closest thing to a Euro member that I can think of is Swede Oscar Möller, who played half a season with the Kings before he was "ready" and has struggled since.
Lander thinks he is not yet ready, which might, paradoxically, give us a glimpse of this young man's maturity. His leadership skills have been widely praised, receiving lettered recognition with both Sweden's World Junior squad as well as with his club team in Timrå. How often do you see a teenager wearing an "A" with a professional club? I don't profess to follow such matters closely, but my current short list begins and ends with Anton Lander.
There are some who might prefer to see Lander play a year in the AHL rather than a fourth in the SEL, where he already has a remarkable 150 professional games under his belt. I don't see the rush with European prospects myself; I'm not a huge fan of imports in the CHL nor underagers in the AHL. Moreover, Lander is more likely to be given latitude to play his game - one of defensive responsibility and leadership - on a club where he is already established, not to mention that he still has that younger brother to care for. To me this is a solid, responsible decision from a young man who never seems to miss a beat in this department.
In the latest update to his website, Lander confirms that contract talks did occur but weren't consummated. He says he will be coming to Oilers summer camp for the first time, a definite sign of progress. I'll look forward to getting eyeballs on the kid at that time.
My first, televised views of Lander were very encouraging indeed. I've "seen him good" at the 2010 WJC, where he played a reliable two-way game with sound positioning and PK skills. He also revealed some offensive moxy, as he twice notched a brace in a televised game. He finished the Tournament of Small Sample Sizes with a very respectable 5-3-8 in 6 GP for Tre Kronor. His goals were not gems of speed and skill, but of the garbage collection type. Lander consistently showed up in the right place at the right time to pounce on loose pucks and rebounds, and demonstrated a very low panic point in improving his position before letting the shot go, such as the nice deke shown here against Switzerland's Benjamin Conz in the bronze medal game.
Anton was definitely getting some bounces, but I note with some encouragement that he posted a similarly impressive 6 GP, 2-7-9 performance at the previous year's U-18 tourney. The guy clearly isn't clueless in the offensive end of the ice.
Offence is not at the top of Lander's attributes, but he's going to need a little of it to survive. If I may be permitted the cliche of comparing the Swede to other Swedes, the possible career path I see for him resembles these guys:
- P.J. Axelsson played 121 regular season and playoff games for Vastra Frolunda in the SEL between the ages of 18 and 21, battling injury before finally breaking through for 20 points in his 20-year-old season. By 22, the 6'0 185-lb Axelsson was a full-time NHLer and a damn useful one at that, ultimately playing 851 regular season and playoff games for the Boston Bruins and zero in the minor leagues.
- Samuel Pahlsson played 232 games for Modo between the ages of 17 and 22, breaking through with 8-9-17 in his 19-year-old season. The 6'0, 203-lb Pahlsson came to the NHL at 23, where he has played 717 games of responsible hockey for four clubs, and just 13 in the minors. Pahlsson will never be mistaken for an offensive whiz, but was a key member of the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
- Anton Lander has played 150 games for Timrå between the ages of 16 and 18. The 6'0, 194-lb youngster's offensive numbers are relatively modest but improving by the year, all the way to 7-9-16 in his 18-year-old season (in truth he was just four months younger than Pahlsson's 19yo season cited above, but across the International Birthdate Line). One of those goals happened to be the biggest of his club's entire season, the lone goal in the third period of Timrå's 1-0 victory at Luleå that earned them a berth in the playoffs. On the Clutchness Scale, it was a goal worthy of the full 10 Eberles.
Anton Lander is one of the Oilers' more intriguing picks in quite some time. His upside may well be "bottom sixer", but the subtext suggests "winner". I haven't heard a discouraging word about this guy since Oilers drafted him, other than whispers he might be he might be loath to fly the pond. I think Anton's latest comments put the lie to that and show his maturity all at the same time. From my couch Lander's arrows all look like this:
I'm kind of glad he's hanging back, what with MPS and Lander playing over there, I had fun following the SEL more than I usually do this past season, and became a bit of a Timrå fan in the process. And more than a bit of an Anton Lander fan. I can now look forward to more of the same in 2010-11.