One of the key concepts of analytics is to identify players who are undervalued, or mis-evaluated. The kind of player you should look at are people who have had a bad year, seemingly out of nowhere, and Anton Lander is just that kind of player.
Oddly, his name came up today on Oilers Now, and he was poo poo’d, with questions asked about whether he was actually an NHL player, whether he "just couldn’t score at the NHL level", and whether there was a spot on the roster for him.
A couple of things to remember: he’s 23 years old. Outside of Hall, Nuge, Yak, and Maricin, he’s the youngest player on the Oilers. He was put in the league as a 20 year old and had a disastrous experience on a horrible team. In a normal organization, he would right now have 2-3 years of AHL experience, and (had he put up the AHL numbers he put up last year) would be considered a great prospect.
Anyways, on to the five reasons he’s going to be our best bet at second line center.
1. His shooting percentages will rebound.
In the 94 NHL games he’s played in the last 3 years, his shooting percentage is 2.4%. His on ice shooting percentage is hovering in the 4.3% range (undoubtedly some relation to what we’ll talk about in #2). He’s also hitting the net on less than 50% of shots, worst by far of any regularly playing forward on the team (and which would rank somewhere in the bottom 5 of NHL centres). His 95.2 PDO would rank second worst in the entire league.
In the AHL his shooting percentage been 8.1%. There’s no reason to believe he can’t at least be an average shooter in the NHL and that this number will rebound.
2. He wouldn’t be saddled with some of the worst players in the NHL.
His most common linemates the last 3 years: Perron+Gazdic, Hartikanen+Jones, Petrell+Eager. Only one of those people is an NHL player. Gazdic contributed a -8.3% RelCorsi (while Lander managed to keep the damage to -0.2%). The previous year, Hartikanen added a -2.0% RelCorsi and Jones a -1.8% and somehow Lander had +1.4%! Petrell a -7.5% and Eager a -4.4% did no favors to his -5.3% as a 20 year old rookie.
Put him with Perron and Purcell, who both maintain positive RelCorsi, and you have a chance for him to have success.
3. He might get a fair share of zone starts.
So this is a guy with 50ish games of NHL experience, who is a scoring center in the minors. He gets brought up to the NHL, and given this zone start: OZ: 25.9%. NZ 35.0%. DZ 39.2%. Outside of Boyd Gordon, that’s the most disadvantageous (by a good distance) of any Oilers centre, and would rank in the top 25 in highest DZ start % in the league.
4. His IPP cannot sustain this bad.
Most Oiler centres are in the 70% range (Arcobello 88.2%, Gordon 60.0%, Gagner 71.9%, Nugent-Hopkins 62%). Anton Lander was at 20.0% last year. I had to double check because it just doesn’t seem possible. Although he’s not getting points, there are goals being scored when he’s on the ice; he just doesn’t seem to be involved in getting them. That does not seem to be a very likely thing to sustain, at least not at this historically low rate.
5. At least he’s decent on faceoffs and if nothing else, can kill penalties.
48.3% faceoffs, while not spectacular, is still superior to both Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins last year. He was a primary penalty killer last year (behind only Hendricks and Gordon in SHTOI%).
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