By almost all accounts, Anton Lander had a good season with Timra. His offensive totals improved. He further cemented his role as a leader. He scored the goal to put his club into the playoffs. And he played a lot, no mean feat for a nineteen year-old in the Swedish Elite League. In our last Top-25 he was ranked 15th and his performance over the last few months - plus some fellows ahead of him aging out and/or moving on - was enough to move up four spots to 11th. He moved up each of our five individual lists with one exception where he regressed badly. After the jump, we'll take a closer look at Lander. I'll try to explain why I rate him so highly and also try to figure out (without asking) why Ben has him in freefall.
So what's not to like about Lander? He's not a really good offensive player - both Jacob Josefson and Marcus Johansson scored more than Lander despite significantly less ice time. In fact, despite scoring six more points than last season, his scoring may have actually significantly regressed; in 2008-09, Lander scored his ten points in only 359:33 (2.59 pts/60, all situations), whereas in 2009-10, his sixteen points came in 875:28 (1.10 pts/60, all situations). At 6'0'', he's not all that big, especially for a player who projects as a defensive center. By his own admission, he needs to work on his skating. Although he's generally well-regarded in terms of his positional play, he isn't particularly good on faceoffs, having won only 47.3% of his draws a year ago (albeit against grown men). The "elite" skill that people talk about is probably leadership, and while that's not unimportant, that's only your best skill when you're not really that skilled. There's nothing about his game that demands your attention and there are some clear weaknesses.
But I'm not much bothered by any of that. Sure, his skills aren't elite, but they're not bad either. He talks about his skating being his biggest weakness, even though ISS described him as having "excellent outside speed" prior to his being drafted. And while 6'0'' isn't big, it's not small either. Historically, Lander compares very well to some of the lesser lights who've come through the Swedish Elite League on their way to the NHL. He may not be Peter Forsberg or Mats Sundin, but from the 2000-01 season to the 2007-08 season, there were only five other eighteen year-olds who scored between eleven and twenty-one points: Robert Nilsson (21), Anze Kopitar (20), Alexander Steen (15), Loui Eriksson (13), and Daniel Widing (11). On the one hand, other than Kopitar there's not a lot to get excited about in that group. On the other hand, aside from Widing, there isn't much to get upset about either. It's clear that Lander doesn't have the size or skill level of a player like Kopitar, but if Lander can provide offensive skills in the range of Nilsson, Steen, and Eriksson while being an excellent leader and hard worker, I'll be thrilled. His lack of size and struggles with skating may end up forcing him to the wing, but I doubt they force him out of the NHL. He's a solid bet to at least get a shot, and when he does, I'm betting that he seizes the opportunity. He's willing to work hard, lead by example, and play any role he's given. In that way, he's like Zack Stortini. Except, you know, with good hockey skills too.