When the Edmonton Oilers announced the signing of Mark Letestu to a three-year deal worth $5.4 million, most felt the organization had found their replacement for Boyd Gordon as the team’s fourth line centre. While on the surface it may look like a fairly straightforward swap, chances are the Elk Point native will give Anton Lander a run for his money as the team’s third line centre.
During his four-year tenure in Columbus, the 30-year old centre saw his role change from time to time and was primarily used as a fourth line guy in 2014-15. While he is coming off a year in which he scored a career-low of seven goals, Letestu was limited to just 54 games due injury and also saw his power play time severely reduced from previous seasons.
Letestu Should Be A Nice Fit In Edmonton
With the Blue Jackets continuing to improve their on-ice talent level, the lack of opportunity on the man advantage should have surprised no one. Having said that, the veteran pivot has a made a point of contributing on the power play, be it in Columbus or with the Pittsburgh Penguins, whenever given the chance. While his ability to kill penalties and win face-offs played a large part in the Oilers signing him, the fact he can chip in on offence is something which cannot be overlooked.
As good a player as Gordon was during his time in Edmonton, creating chances in the offensive zone was never an area of strength in his game. In his defence, the fact the former first-round pick of the Washington Capitals started nearly every shift in his own end of the rink didn’t help but his career totals speak for themselves. In Letestu, the Oilers are hoping they have added a player who can do a bit of both and possibly help push Lander into becoming an even better all-around player.
After struggling to find where he fit within the organization and being waved through the entire league prior to the start of the 2014-15 season, the hard-working Swede had an awakening of sorts following the dismissal of Dallas Eakins as the Oilers bench boss. It is no secret the previous head coach was not a fan of the 24-year old’s game and it showed in his unwillingness to give him an opportunity.
I have Lander pencilled in as 4th line C with the potential of an AHL vet familiar to Eakins being added
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) July 4, 2013
In Eakins’ mind, it made perfect sense to repeatedly turn to a guy like Will Acton as opposed to giving Lander a legitimate shot at showing what he could do. Not surprisingly, confidence became an issue for the player but that seemed to change when he was used by a coach who believed in him. Todd Nelson played a huge role in the former second round pick resurrecting his floundering career in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons and did the same thing for him in the NHL, after taking over from Eakins in mid-December as the Oilers interim head coach.
Lander went from a player who collected a grand total of eight points in 94 appearances, to one who was among the Oilers best all-around forwards down the stretch. He went from being nothing more than an afterthought to a guy who was being used in all situations and rewarded his coach was six goals and twenty points in 36 games. For anyone who watched the transformation take place, it was utterly astonishing to watch.
Lander Is Here To Stay
His improved play earned him a two-year contract extension in early April for just under a million dollars a season and to his credit, Lander carried his strong finish into the 2015 IIHF World Championships. He was among Sweden’s best players in the tournament and seems poised to take that next step in his development in 2015-16. However, it will be up to him to prove to Todd McLellan that he is ready to take on the role of a third line centre because you can bet Letestu will do everything in his power to wrestle that spot away from him.
Regardless of who ends up slotting where in the eventual pecking order, the job will remain the same. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid firmly cemented as this team’s top two centres, it will be up to the duo of Anton Lander and Mark Letestu to give the Edmonton Oilers the depth down the middle this organization has been missing for some time. If they can accomplish that, this group should be able to give themselves a shot at competing on a nightly basis. Let the competition begin.
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.