After hearing general manager Craig MacTavish go on about the Edmonton Oilers likely plan was to stay the course and continue on their way towards allowing this group to find their way into what they are hoping will one day turn into a legitimate playoff contender, it appears as though the 2015-16 campaign could be another tough one for fans of the Orange and Blue to stomach.
As ugly as this season has been, one of the few bright spots has been the play of centre Anton Lander. After working on his game with the Oklahoma City Barons for the better part of four seasons, the hard-working Swede has started to finally show signs of finding his way as a National Hockey League player after taking that next step in his development at the American Hockey League level.
AHL = Time Well Spent
While Dallas Eakins had little to no use for the former second round pick during his tenure behind the Oilers bench, Todd Nelson has been more than willing to give Lander a shot at showing what he can do. To his credit, the 23-year old has managed to make the most of his opportunity. After banging home his fourth power-play marker of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs during Monday’s 4-1 win over at Rexall Place, Lander has now found the back on the net six times in twenty-six games since MacTavish was forced into firing the coach he had absolutely no interest in parting ways with.
Oilers drop to 9-10-3 under Todd Nelson. Had 7 wins in their first 36 games. Yakupov and Lander look like new players under Nelson
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) February 17, 2015
With twelve games still left on the schedule and thirteen points on the year, one would think Lander has a half-decent shot of reaching the twenty point plateau. Considering he came into the 2014-15 season with eight points in ninety-four career games and goalless since his rookie campaign, his turnaround has been awfully impressive. While neither Eakins or MacTavish saw the kid as a useful piece, luckily for him, the Oilers new head coach had a front row seat in watching him mature into the player he had become during their time together in OKC. Funny what can happen when you give a player a chance and actually show that you believe in their ability to get the job done.
What Is MacT’s Master Plan?
One would think the native of Sundsvall, Sweden has done enough to earn himself a spot on this roster in 2015-16 but that could possibly change if the organization decides to go in a different direction behind the bench. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon as locks for two of the four centre spots and the possibility of Leon Draisaitl and hopefully one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel also being in the mix, not to mention fan favourite Derek Roy as a potential short-term solution, there is no guarantee Lander will remain as part of the solution moving forward.
With the chances of the Oilers actually getting their hands on one of McDavid or Eichel decreasing with each and every day, perhaps having Draisaitl start next season in the AHL or possibly in a top nine role as a winger with the big club will allow the organization to take a serious look at bringing both Lander and Roy back for 2015-16. If it were me, looking to upgrade on the long-time Buffalo Sabre as their second line pivot would be the way to go should they ultimately lose out on the McEichel Sweepstakes but that may be easier said than done…especially when the general manager seems unwilling to part with any of his youth for proven NHL talent.
Retaining Nelson Should Be Secondary
There is no question that Todd Nelson has played a large role in Anton Lander’s turnaround but seeing the Oilers No. 51 as a regular participant on the man advantage come next October is far from a guarantee and it probably becomes even less likely with a different voice behind the bench. In my mind, barring MacTavish going out and finding a legit power play net presence via free agency or trade, Lander should be an absolute lock on the PP moving forward…if not on the top unit. Obviously reading too much into the numbers a player puts up during a season that has essentially been over since the end of October is not the smartest of things to do but his willingness to not only go to the front of the net but remain there throughout the man advantage cannot be ignored.
It is an element this team has been missing since the departure of Shawn Horcoff and not surprisingly, Edmonton’s power play has been nowhere near as effective since…until now. Read into that what you will but there is no arguing he has had a positive impact on the PP, just as he did for Oklahoma City Barons over the last season and half before coming up to Edmonton on a full-time basis. While some within the organization may not want to believe it, the stats speak for themselves and should lead to Anton Lander getting a crack at his first full season as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 2015-16.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.