Anton Lander's legend preceeded him to the NHL. When we interviewed Lander last year, our interviewer, Jimmy Hamrin, began his introduction for his Swedish newspaper with the following:
"Anton Lander seems to suffer from some kind of disorder that forces him to be huge in big games. "
Hamrin set the scene for his interview with a few more snippets:
"...there is much talk of Anton's leadership skills and maturity for his age. His juniors teammates called him "our Joe Sakic" for example."
"He sat down and shook my hand and asked what I had and went and bought it. He showed a genuine appreciation towards me and acted genuinely interested in me as a person. It was almost like it was his pleasure to meet me and not vice versa. It is difficult to accept but it feels like he has the ability to make others feel important around him."
He's a natural-born leader given a letter in the SEL at age 18. He's a big-game player, a defensive demon and possesses the personality of Gandhi.
Since coming to North America this summer, his on-ice play has done nothing to diminish his legend. He was a man among boys during the Penticton tournament and looked for all of the world like a legit NHL player against the Minnesota Wild last night in the second of the Oilers' split squad games. He's demonstrated better skating ability than the scouting reports have given him credit for and his defensive play, especially in marking a man can only be characterized as relentless. He's got me thinking about the return of the shadow to Edmonton. Though management has already set the opening night roster, Lander has to be making life miserable for those decision-makers. With each passing game he proves he not only belongs, but it better than three of the guys already handed roster spots.
Though his defense and skating have been on display, the most interesting aspect of Lander's work thus far has been the number of shots he's taken. Though many traits incorporate his legend, "triggerman" is not one of those traits. But Lander took eight shots in two games during the Penticton tournament, leading the team once and took five more last night against the Wild, again leading the team.
His shot totals from his time in Timrå don't leap off of the page, but examined in more detail, there's a trend.
In 2009-10 he had 70 shots on goal in 49 games (1.43 shots per game) with Timrå in what was primarily a defensive role. Magnus Paajarvi led the team with 160 shots in 49 games (3.27 shots per game). In 2010-11 Lander increased his offensive role and it showed in his shots totals. He totaled 122 SOG in 49 games (2.49 shots per game). Though it doesn't compare to Paajarvi's totals from 2009-10, 122 shots was enough to lead Timrå.
I asked Jimmy (who is still closely tracking Lander) about Lander's offensive role last season, his response lends credence to my "Lander as a triggerman" theory:
"After the World Juniors (which was a huge disappointment for him) he stopped thinking and just took matters in his own hands in every game. He was absolutely fantastic in the SEL and had a lot of shots then too.
He shoots really well off of one-timers. I think that the smaller rinks makes him shoot more."
Couple all of the traits that built his legend with a proclivity to shoot more and Lander is built for the NHL. If he maintains his level of play as competition stiffens deeper into preseason, keeping him off of the team in favor of lesser players is going to take a level of chutzpah I can't imagine.