BUFFALO NY - DECEMBER 31: Forward Anton Lander #16 of Sweden wins a race to the puck against forward Louis Leblanc #20 of Canada during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship game between Canada and Sweden on December 31 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
I've decided to isolate on Edmonton Oiler prospect Anton Lander in this WJHC bronze medal game. Exactly matches my interest level in the game; I do want to watch it, but I need a reason to pay attention. Should be a good fit.
TSN coverage starts with replay of Lander firing a shootout effort against Russians off the very inside of the goalpost, a millimetre from a perfect shot and now that far removed from Ever achieving his dream of being the first Swede to captain a WJHC gold medallist in thirty years. Hockey can be cruel. The image of him sitting dejectedly on the ice as he tries to digest that reality is reminscent of Paul Coffey sitting in the open bench door at Nassau County Coliseum after losing the Stanley Cup Final in 1983. I respect that.
First period: (all action 5v5 unless otherwise designated)
0:54 5v4 Loses O-zone draw, jumps into the backcheck and is in perfect position. When play turns a defender joins the attack, so Lander is fourth man on the rush, which he joins as a trailer. He's got the rushing blueliner's back, however, and ducks back ot the right point as the Swedes push the forecheck. Eventually the puck dribbles to the goalie just before Lander crashes the crease.
2:10 5v4 Uneventful shift, shadowed puck around without ever touching it. Had his feet moving and there was always a purpose to where he was going, even as the puck moved before he arrived.
7:32 5v4 Loses scrambled draw, leads subsequent rush, shot off of LW is blocked. In the resultant scramble, makes a key touch to help Sweden maintain possession, then skates through Campbll's sightlines as shot from point comes in.
8:55 5v4 Joins on fly, leads rush, gains line, dishes ... maintains possession briefly in a one-on-one battle but is soon outnumbered and dispossessed. Swedes regain zone, Lander again covers off rushing pointman, then jumps in to join a scramble below goall line just in time to pick up loose puck, work it back to the point.
11:40 Joins on the fly. Play gets locked along the neutral zone boatrds for a few seconds, then just as the Swedes are winning the battle I hear Lander yell and sure enough he's open down the other wing, takes the puck wide, is battled to a standstill by Yankee defenceman but continues to work hard as a teammate comes in to support. Makes an early, safe change from deep in the offensive zone.
~14:00 The entire Swedish team makes one of the more amazing goal line stands I've ever seen. The goalie is the fourth guy in line for one seemingly dangerous shot. No Lander, but noteworthy. Gord Miller calls it a "turkey shoot", which is pretty good for on-the-fly commentary. Gord doesn't have all month to plan what he says, unlike some of the studio talking heads who (should) have time to put together a good turn of phrase or one-liner.
14:40 Joins on fly with play going wrong way. Soon leads rush, has shot blocked, semi-wins a battle for puck possession by getting puck deep, then joins the backcheck to snuff out #11 coming up the boards.
17:30 Joins on fly with play going wrong way. Picks up his man on the backcheck and skates him off, but that leaves a loose puck in the slot for the next comer - a blue sweater in this instance. First thing resembling a mistake. Swedes survive, clear, and already they're changing after no more than 20 seconds.
19:25 4v4 Loses D-zone draw, but Swedes soon regain possession. Lander gets his feet moving and builds speed even as he turns to give the defnceman a target for the outlet pass, doing the exact right thing but maybe a rough edge to his skating there? Takes said pass, then makes a hard diagonal pass through the neutral zone to hit a breaking teammate who couldn't quite handle the pass. Is the high man back as play turns the other way, loses balance briefly inside blueline but jumps to his feet to pursue puck and eventually to tip a last-second shot out of harm's way.
20:15 4v4 Loses D-zone draw, follows play, squeezes out and hits his man. Closes into perfect position as players tie up along boards to jump on loose disc and lead the rush. really gets on his horse, takes the play wide and to end boards but is defended well. Safe change.
Did I miss a shift? All these yellow jerseys look the same! Numbers are hard to read, and I'm getting no sense of a rhythm of rolling lines for some reason. Doesn't help that #10 is a LH shooting centre whose number is easily confused with Lander's #16. Also all Swedes seem to wear a little flourish on the shoulder area where the Lander's C should stand out. I'd rather he was wearing a Great Big C kind of like what the Flames or Canucks wear. (Just this once!!)
27:40 4v5 Loses D-zone draw (again!), heads for bench as soon as Swedes clear zone. <20 seconds. He needs to work on faceoffs, that will be an essential skill for him to make it in NHL.
29:10 4v5 Joins PK on fly, moves into neutral zone with a shove, takes a shot in the back, then initiates minor scrum after whistle. Just hockey.
31:20 Wins O-zone draw, nothing comes of it. Loses yet another D-zone draw for direct shot on goal.
33:00 4v5 1-0 SWE. Joins PK on fly. Joins box in D-zone, but twice gets on the wrong side of #19 blue, the second of which is converted for the tying goal. A split second too late, but late. A hard-earned 1-0 lead is gone within a couple of minutes. 1-1
35:50 Before puck drop Pierre talks about how Lander has been real quiet since Team Canada shootout win (I think he meant the Team Sweden shootout win). What was that, one game ago? "He hasn't been very noisy since that part of the tournament". That goal post sounded pretty loud to me ... Wins O-zone draw, then holds puck along LW boards before setting up screen shot from point. Later joins the backcheck and swoops through the middle of the zone filling the passing lanes. He has a good read on likely paths of the puck.
43:20 Now 2-1 USA. Joins on fly, takes breakout pass, but his own pass through neutral zone gets batted down. Later jumps on loose puck in slot and initates three-way passing sequence that ends with his own one-timer from top of right circle. Saved, held by Campbell. Wins O-zone draw but linemate takes faceoff interference penalty. Stays out for PK, wins D-zone draw, then gets off after Sweden clears zone.
45:10 4v5 joined on fly. No puck action, but goes to bat for goalie in post whistle scrum, giving one American a shot and getting into a wrestling match with the ohter. Alas, camera angle changes just as Lander seems to be gaining upper hand in that one. Still, I'm liking the edginess he's displaying, it's not just a technical game, especially for a team leader.
48:10 Loses O-zone draw, hard on the backcheck, directing traffic between the defencemen facing the two-on-two. On change of possesion, leads Swedish breakout, takes pass, gains centre, soft dump in. Later regains puck along defensive zone end boards, breaks through middle, makes safe pass to trailing D who walks it out. Seconds later Lander is handling puck along offensive zone end boards and in the opposite corner too, he's literally traversed the entire rink. He understands the centre gig well. After safelky chipping puck through to teammate along end boards he breaks for the goalmouth but the pass doesn't make it to him.
51:40 Wins D-zone draw but teammate is dispossessed of puck. Loses next faceoff, and after a few seconds of scrambly play in which Sweden never quite regains possession, and Americans score on shot into traffic, beauty deflection. 3-1 USA, time to turn out the lights?
53:00 Loses D-zone draw, comes out to physically engage blue sweater at top of circle, nothing dangerous ensues. As both Swedish D get sucked into corner, Lander assumes front-of-net presence and has his head on a swivel (I hope Cogs is watching!) while being in perfect position to support puck movement should the Swedes gain control. Play goes up boards and Lander jumps into rush, takes pass at centre, one-times it on to the charging winger.
56:40 Now 3-2 USA. Lander makes a weak dump-in that is instantly cleared, then a poor pass in own zone as Swedes are clearly pressing. Finally makes a good play to get puck through neutral zone, shoot it in, establish possession below goal line and help create a half-chance on a jam play.
59:10 Now 4-2 USA. Wins O-zone draw, but nothing comes of it. Later handles puck four separate times in neutral or defensive zone, dishing it safely each time as Swedes struggle to regain zone. Puck goes out of play with seconds remaining and Lander leaves WJHC ice for last time.
* * *
Lander continues to impress me as the type of player I call a "facilitator", one who joins the play between the defencemen and forwards and who greatly assists in the transition game in both directions. Best comp among current Oilers as a player Type is Shawn Horcoff. I don't think this was the best I've seen him, although I must admit to never focussing on him to this degree before. Anton's got an outstanding head for the game, but in this contest showed a couple of rough edges that he will need to continue to work hard on, skating and faceoffs in particular. That said he's a 19-year-old kid on a steep learning curve. In my view as a defensive player he is already ahead of some of the centres who play for the Oilers . That will have to be his calling card as he is not gifted offensively, although I think he's smart enough with enough innate hockey sense that he will get his points no matter where his career takes him. He's more likely to score like Marty Reasoner than Horcoff, but he's also more likely to score like Reasoner than Colin Fraser. Defensively he is more like Reasoner than Andrew Cogliano. Maybe "Marty Sakic" isn't the sexiest comp in the world, but in the right situation such a player is a valuable guy. In Anton Lander I see a developing role player of that ilk whose game will continue to mature for years to come.