For the 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers, the depth chart has become a battleground for players trying to find their place on the roster. With a new head coach in town, it opens up even more room for competition.
There is one young player at training camp that knows this is the year to finally make the jump on a full-time basis.
22 year-old centre, Anton Lander, has had an up-and-down career with the Oilers. Literally, he has bounced up and down between the American Hockey League and the NHL since being drafted 40th overall in 2009.
He saw 56 games for the Oilers in his rookie season before finishing the year off with 28 games in Oklahoma City, Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, including 14 playoff games.
Lander played mostly fourth-line minutes with the Oilers that year before getting valuable top-six time in OKC.
But last season, the injury bug bit Lander hard and wouldn’t let go.
First came a broken foot with the Oilers which placed the sophomore forward on injured reserve. Once cleared, Lander was sent to OKC, before being called up again and playing minimal minutes with Edmonton, leading to another assignment to the AHL.
And then, just when he was building confidence and finding his offensive groove, Lander suffered a knee injury, which derailed his momentum.
But all of that is behind him. Throw away last season and say hello to 2013-14.
“I am 100% ready to go,” said Lander. “I had a good rehab during the summer. It feels good. I have been skating and working harder on running and biking. It hasn’t bothered me so, I would be really surprised if (the injury affects) me.”
It’s been a long summer of preparation and getting his mind in the right place to return to Oilers camp, but Lander is ready. He is also excited about the atmosphere of the locker room and the devotion of this new regime to winning.
“You always try to get prepared for main camp. You get surprised when you get on the ice and start skating but we are all really excited about this. It’s a new coach and it’s new thinking. It’s more of a mental thing to start winning games and we need to start getting that into our head. I think this is great. I think everyone is so excited to just start playing games.”
It’s a contract year for Lander. The centre is in the final season of his three-year entry-level contract and he says he knows that it’s go-time. Not concerned with the personal goals or achievements, Lander knows that if the team is winning and he is contributing while improving, he’s succeeding.
“I know this is an important year for me. It’s the last year of my contract.
“The main thing for me is to win games. If you’re winning games, most of the time, you’re playing good. If you’re playing good, youre= team’s doing good.
“I’m just focused on winning games and working as hard as I can on the ice to get better every day, even if it’s on my backhand shot, or in the gym or whatever it is. I will try to get better every day.”
With the Oilers top centre, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, expected to miss some time while recovering from shoulder surgery, Lander has an opportunity in front of him to make an impression on the new coaching staff.
Lander figures to be battling for the fourth-line center position with free agent pickup, Will Acton, as well as fellow OKC prospect Mark Arcobello.