After a pretty brutal 2015/16 season, where he only scored one goal and notched two assists, Anton Lander has a lot to prove to Oiler fans. He was coming off of a pretty good 2014/15 season, when he was promoted to Edmonton from Oklahoma City after Todd Nelson became interim head coach, scoring six goals and finishing the season with 20 points in 38 games. Expectations were certainly raised last summer when he was rewarded with a two-year, one-way contract extension that would pay him $925K in the first year and $1.05 million in the second ($987,500 AAV), and a very good showing at the 2015 World Championships where he played on the top line for Sweden.
One thing to consider is that of the 20 points he scored in 2014/15, 9 were on the powerplay, which was clicking at a very high rate with Todd Nelson behind the bench. With McLellan behind the bench, Lander did not get nearly as much ice time with the man advantage, and understandably so: the lineup was healthier than the 2014/15 team and the additions of McDavid and Draisaitl were going to push players like Lander off of the powerplay. Regardless, Lander's respectable 1.49 points/60 at even-strength was sixth among Oiler forwards who played at least 400 minutes in 2014/15 (12 forwards total). What was also promising were his possession numbers over those 38 games. Below is how he ranked among Oiler forwards with at least 400 minutes of ice time. (Source: Hockey Analysis)
Lander finished the season with a +1.2 Corsi For percentage relative to teammates, which ranked him behind top six forwards like Hall, Eberle, RNH and Pouliot. Lander's two most common linemates that season were Matt Fraser and Andrew Miller, both of which are fringe players today. Lander did spend 93 minutes with Hall as well, which would absolutely give his numbers a boost. When it came to the rate of generating shot attempts (i.e., Corsi For/60), Lander finished third on the team with a +3.80 Corsi For/60 relative to teammates, but ranked 8th on the team when it to the rate of shot attempts against.
Fast forward to the 2015/16 season, and Lander's productivity when it came to point production falls off of a cliff, as he finished the season with a 0.33 points/60 at even-strength, which was last on the team among forwards who played at least 500 minutes, and fourth last in the entire NHL. But when it came to his possession numbers relative to his teammates, Lander did not fare too badly.
Here we see that among the thirteen forwards who played at least 500 minutes, Lander ranked 7th overall with a -0.7 CF% relative to teammates. Really, he wasn't too far off from the team's possession numbers and fared much better than some of the other depth players. What should be good news to Lander is that the club moved on from winger Lauri Korpikoski this summer, who scored 22 points, but was an obvious drag on the team's possession numbers. The team does not appear to be making key personnel decisions on points alone, which should give Lander some hope of making the team next season.
What's also promising is the fact that the team allowed 28.98 shots against per 60 at even-strength (i.e., shots that actually hit the net) when Lander was on the ice. This ranks him at the top of the list of Oiler forwards who played more than 500 mins, with a relative-to-teammates score of -1.7. This isn't to suggest Lander is a premier, shut-down centermen, but he did do well in some areas that might be getting overlooked because he didn't produce any points.
There was also a point last season where Lander was leading the league in drawing penalties, and the rate at which he was doing so (Source: NHL Numbers, TSN). This can be of extreme value to a team as its been found that drawing more penalties than taking them is a repeatable skill that can potentially lead to more goals on the scoreboard (Source: Broad Street Hockey). Unfortunately Lander did not maintain the same level of productivity when it came to drawing penalties, finishing the season with 0.44 penalty differential/60. This ranked him fifth on the team behind Purcell, McDavid, Hall and RNH (Source: Corsica Hockey). The good news: Lander actually posted a 1.09 penalty differential/60 in 2014/15, which ranked him first on the team, and 49th in the league among 386 forwards who played at least 400 minutes.
Being a fan of Lander's, I do hope that he can bounce back from a brutal 2015/16 season. His point production has to be better, and I do expect it to be. He finished the season with a 96.7 PDO, the worst on the team, and had to spend a good chunk of his ice time with Korpikoski, a player who has a track record of dragging down the possession numbers of his linemates.
Depth players like Anton Lander are typically available to teams at any point of the season, but knowing his history and seeing his progress through the AHL up until now, you would hope that he can establish himself as the depth centermen the Oilers need. Seeing that some of his underlying numbers weren't as bad as first thought gives us (the #AntonFanders) some hope that Lander will compete for a roster spot this coming season, and hopefully solidify his role with the club going forward.