By all accounts, Anton Lander is a wonderful person, and a bit of a name in his hometown. He was the captain of his hometown team in the Swedish Elite League, Timra IK, at just twenty years old, and both the team and the city seem to think that the guy hasn't left. Timra IK debuted the Anton Lander Cup, a U-11 hockey tournament for both boys and girls, last November and Lander was recently welcomed back home to help with the relaunch of the Timra-Sundsvall airport. When Craig MacTavish talks about needing quality people in the organization, Anton Lander's big, beautiful smile is the image that comes to mind. But can he play in the NHL?
|Rank||Player||DOB||Drafted||Year||Alan ||Ben ||Bruce ||DB ||Derek ||JW||Michael||Ryan ||Scott|
Well, yes. He hasn't done it well yet, but he has already done it. Anton Lander currently sits 27th among players drafted in 2009 in NHL games played with 67, and a quick look at Edmonton's depth chart heading into this season --
Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Gordon, ???, ??? -- probably has Lander as the favorite to land an NHL job. There are questions about Lander's ability at the NHL level, but no more questions than there are about Mark Arcobello (1 career NHL game), Andrew Miller (rookie pro), and Will Acton (26-year-old with no NHL experience). Everyone and their dog knows that starting the season with Lander (or any of these other guys) in the NHL is a bad idea, but even though there are still a few decent options available, Craig MacTavish seems intent on letting these suboptimal options fight it out. And, you know what? It might actually work.
Anton Lander did some nice things this winter, especially in the late stages. Earlier this week, Lowetide helpfully gathered Lander's AHL splits pre and post lockout, and found that Lander's numbers improved substantially once there was actually some ice time available for him:
The increase in offense, especially in shots per game, is encouraging. NHL players need to be able to chip in at least a small amount of offense, so seeing Lander take a step forward at the AHL level bodes well. I'd rather see him do it for at least another half-season before considering him for a job in the NHL, but the fact that the Oilers probably aren't going to do that doesn't mean his step forward isn't real. Furthermore, it's not like he was a total train wreck in every area in the NHL. In his more complete 2011-12 NHL season, Lander was an excellent penalty killer, and with the Oilers jettisoning the vast majority of last year's PK unit, he could again find himself very useful to his coach with stellar play at that discipline.
The bottom line is that making the NHL is often about opportunity, and Lander has himself a huge one with the Oilers. There's some competition for the job he's looking at, but if Lander wins the day and plays at a decent level, he's young enough that he'll probably be back next year. And the year after that. And then he may get promoted into Boyd Gordon's job and be on the team for a decade. There aren't many other players on this list ranked 10th through 20th who have such a clear path.
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