The Oilers have had major problems getting regular production from their bottom six forwards. Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl have been on an absolute tear offensively, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have provided the team with quality minutes and appear to be finding their stride. The problem is, if either of these two pairs goes through any sort of slump, or sustains a major injury, there aren't any reliable options who can play a lot of minutes and find the score sheet.
Now a lot of the frustration has been towards Anton Lander who, after signing a two year deal last summer, has not produced at an acceptable level, even being benched for one game. Head coach Todd McLellan has mentioned how Lander does the detailed stuff in games, but it hasn't translated into a single goal 32 games into the season.
One thing I'm beginning to question is why Mark Letestu hasn't received the same amount of criticism for his play this season. Letestu has posted eight points, but only two of those have come at even-strength. The quick answer might be that Letestu is a Chiarelli hire, while Lander's contract extension was tendered by the previous regime. The other issue might be the fact that Lander actually performed relatively well when he gained full-time status after Nelson was named interim head coach last season and the increased level of expectations. He did post 20 points in 37 games, with 11 of those points, including only one goal, coming at even-strength. Letestu on the other hand also posted 11 points in 54 games as a Blue Jacket last season, but was largely off the radar of most Oilers fans.
To get a sense of how each has performed this season, I've compiled a table sorted by scoring, rate scoring and relative to team metrics, among others, at even strength (Source: War on Ice).
Here we see both players being deployed somewhat similarly, starting often in the defensive zone. Both players can win draws, with Lander having more success at draws early in the game or when the score is close. Goaltending tends to be better when Letestu and his linemates are on the ice, but the on-ice shooting percentage is the same as when Lander is on the ice.
Using the relative-to-team metrics, we see that the team tends to do better in terms of shot attempts, shots, scoring chances and goals when either of these two players is off the ice. Letestu doesn't get as many starts in the offensive zone, but does post better numbers compared to Lander when it comes to high-danger scoring chances and goals for. Lander appears to be the better shot differential player, so I'm suspecting there might be some bad luck involved here. Another issue to consider is that Letestu has played the majority of his time with Matt Hendricks, who is having a relatively good campaign compared to his past seasons. Lander on the other hand has spent most of his time with Lauri Korpikoski who has a history of dragging down the possession and scoring numbers of his centermen.
And in terms of competition and deployment, we can use the Hockey Abstract's player usage charts to demonstrate how each player is deployed. Below is are the Oilers forwards this season, with the bubble size indicating ice time and the shading indicating Corsi Rel.
Here we see that while both Lander and Letestu get fewer offensive zone starts, Lander tends to see the better competition. Letestu does have the ability to play around the lineup, but he's often deployed in a slightly sheltered role under McLellan's system.
The Oilers bottom six has been dreadful this season, with the exception of Hendricks. While most are quick to point at Lander and his lack of scoring, Letestu's poor performance cannot be overlooked. If both centerman are struggling to not only suppress shots, but also produce points, there may be a larger issue here. Whether it be line combinations or line matchups, the coaching staff has to make the adjustments needed to ensure team success. This will be especially critical with Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot returning in the near future, which may push Lander or Letestu to the pressbox.