The top two lines have been playing extremely well for the Edmonton Oilers. The top line has taken on the top line of opposing teams while the second line led by Connor McDavid, has been producing at an elite rate. Unfortunately, the rest of the forwards have struggled to produce, often getting outshot by opponents and barely generating anything in the offensive zone. Anton Lander has been singled out a number of times now this season by fans and the coaching staff, and for good reason. Following a successful career in the AHL, and showing well in a full-time role last season, the Oilers signed him to a two year, one way contract to solidify the center position. Personally, I was thrilled for the player as well as for the Oilers who have long struggled to have four reliable pivots at any given time.
Thirteen games into the season, it's a good time to ask what the issue is and really if there are any remedies. By eye, Lander has struggled gaining the zone and often losing puck battles. Expectations of his actual point production should remain modest, since he notched 20 points in 38 games last season, with just over half of those points (11) coming at even-strength.
To get a sense of how Lander has done and how he's being deployed at even-strength this season, here are some of his high-level numbers, including time on ice, possession and zone starts. I've also included the time-on-ice weighted Corsi percentages for Lander's linemates (CorT%) and competition (CorC%). (Source: War on Ice).
|Games||Points||TOI/GM||CF% (CF% Rel)||ZSO% (ZSO% Rel)||CorT%||CorC%||Face-off%|
|13||0-0-0||10.72||39.5% (-11.1)||34.21% (-18.19)||47.21||50.89||55.6|
What we can glean from here is that Lander is taking on tougher competition and zone starts, probably to get McDavid’s line into some prime offensive opportunities. Lander does play a good two-way, conservative game which you’d want to deploy against mid-level players. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to have the strongest linemates. Here’s a game by game recap of how he did, who his common linemates were, and the opposing center he played the most against at even-strength (Source: Natural Stat Trick).
|Date||Opponent||TOI||CF||CA||CF%||ZSO%||Common Linemates||Most TOI Against|
|2015-10-08||at STL||11:05||9||9||50.0||0.0||Korpikoski, Yakupov||D. Backes|
|2015-10-10||at NSH||10:04||7||11||38.9||54.6||Korpikoski, Slepyshev||M. Fisher|
|2015-10-13||at DAL||6:03||4||13||23.5||50.0||Korpikoski, Slepyshev||J. Spezza|
|2015-10-15||vs STL||11:20||3||16||15.8||20.0||Korpikoski, Purcell||D. Backes|
|2015-10-17||at CGY||10:18||5||13||27.8||38.5||Korpikoski, Purcell||M. Stajan|
|2015-10-18||at VAN||14:21||6||9||40.0||12.5||Korpikoski, Purcell||H. Sedin|
|2015-10-21||vs DET||11:18||6||15||28.6||25.0||Korpikoski, Purcell||R. Sheahan|
|2015-10-23||vs WSH||12:29||10||12||45.5||33.3||Korpikoski, Purcell||J. Beagle|
|2015-10-25||vs LA||13:19||7||14||33.3||20.0||Korpikoski, Purcell||A. Kopitar|
|2015-10-27||at MIN||12:55||16||12||57.1||62.5||Korpikoski, Purcell||C. Coyle|
|2015-10-29||vs MTL||5:33||4||3||57.1||0.0||Pakarinen, Purcell||A. Galchenyuk|
|2015-10-31||vs CGY||10:20||6||9||40.0||28.6||Letestu, Purcell||S. Bennett|
|2015-11-03||vs PHI||11:46||16||10||61.5||100.0||Yakupov, Gazdic||R. White|
McLellan obviously trusts Lander enough here to send him out against David Backes, Anze Kopitar and other top 6 forwards at home. He sends him more often than not to take faceoffs in the defensive zone, which makes sense as Lander has a 55.6% face-off win percentage so far this season. The problem is that among other centers who play roughly the same minutes as him, Lander actually takes on the toughest competition and, among the same group, has the weakest linemates (Source: War on Ice). That of course doesn't clear him of all criticism: there's enough visual evidence that he's struggling to generate chances and contribute offensively. But it's something to consider when assessing his overall performance and where the deficiencies might be.
Seeing that Lauri Korpikoski and Teddy Purcell were his most common linemates, I decided to look into the WOWY charts available at Hockey Analysis. Here's how things are looking possession-wise at even-strength this season.
|Linemate||CF% With Lander||CF% Without Lander||CF% Lander Away|
Here we see that Korpoikoski is a bit of a drag, as Lander tends to do better away from him. Purcell has a slightly better influence on Lander's numbers, as they have experienced success playing together in the past. Should also note that when Korpikoski and Lander are together, they get more of their starts in the offensive zone. When Lander is away from either of these two, he's starting much more often in the defensive zone. His faceoff acumen is highly valued by McLellan, and at this point, might be the only reason he's dressed all 13 games.
As for Korpikoski, I did a little more digging around to see how he'd impacted his centermen when he was with Arizona in 2014/15. As we see here, he actually dragged down his three most common centermen (listed from most time together to least), so maybe we shouldn't be too surprised about his impact on Lander.
|Linemate||CF% With Korpikoski||CF% Without Korpikoski||CF% Korpikoski Away|
Lander is going to be a critical player for the Oilers moving forward as he should be relied upon to take on tougher competition and harsher zone starts. This of course gives McLellan more options in deploying his top two lines and puts his high powered offense into favorable situations. What will be important for Lander is that he's paired with wingers who have had success taking on tough assignments in the past, or who have legitimate potential to do so. With McDavid out indefinitely, I'd expect Lander to play more minutes and with stronger linemates, which should have a positive impact on his production.