OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- Anton Lander has been Todd Nelson’s rock this season.
The 2013-2014 season has been tumultuous for the Oklahoma City Barons with the team facing adversity such as having eight different goalies on their roster at different times, various injuries to players like Oscar Klefbom, Curtis Hamilton or Tyler Pitlick and 99 roster transactions to date. But one thing has been consistent and that is the play and leadership of the 22-year-old Edmonton Oilers prospect.
“He’s a point-a-game guy for us,” said the Barons Head Coach. “His peers voted him as captain, that speaks volumes. He’s a guy that understands where he’s at in his career. He knows what he has to do to get better.”
Lander has 21 (10-11-21) points in 22 games for OKC, which leads the list of players currently on the team. The season seems to be going well for the first-year captain but he is not satisfied with the personal success.
“So far, it’s been okay but if you look in the standings, we’re not winning enough games,” said the centre. “That’s what it’s all about. When the team is winning games, every guy on the team is doing good so that’s something we need to start to figure out here.”
Lander has embraced the role of captain after becoming the first Oilers drafted prospect to wear the ‘C’, for the team, and the youngest captain in Barons history.
“It’s always an honour to get named captain, it’s special. How we do it in Oklahoma is every player writes down three names and votes on it. I don’t change my personality. I try to be the same guy and do the same stuff I’ve been doing. Of course, it was a big honour and I’m grateful of the team.”
The team has also embraced Lander.
“Just (the other day) in practice for instance, Rocky Thompson was working with Gernat and Musil and all of the other guys were playing ‘juice boy’ as a competition because they were doing a story on it,” said Nelson. “Anton left the game and went and worked with the young kids… For not being an older guy, that speaks volumes of his character. I can’t speak more highly of a person. He has a good understanding of the game, his work ethic is incredible and to see him producing points here, is a very good sign for us.”
It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons to lead the Barons roster. With all of the adversity, the team’s record hasn’t been where it has in the past. After back-to-back Western Conference Finals appearances, the Barons find themselves at 13th in the Western Conference and eight points back of the Rockford IceHogs who currently hold the eighth seed. The youth and turnover on their roster has taken time to mesh and despite better play as of late, OKC needs more wins. Regardless of those struggles, Lander has kept the dressing room together.
“I think the challenges for him are, when the teams not doing as well as we have in the past, I think it’s always a burden on a captain,” said Lander’s bench boss. “As a coaching staff, it’s a burden on us but he is an extension of us. He’s the leader in that locker room, we have good leadership to help him out as well but the thing that Anton has always had is that he holds people accountable. He holds himself accountable at first and then if his teammates are not performing, he gets on them as well. When things don’t go your way, and this year it’s been a bit of a struggle, these problems get magnified. I think he’s been dealing with it well. I think he addresses situations to his teammates when needed and it’s very evident that he’s been a captain before. I think he’s handled it very well and I think his character goes unmatched.”
|Photo by Steven Christy |
For Lander personally, this is a big season. The Oilers are hoping that he is close to taking full-time NHL duty by force. He has played in 79 NHL games in his three-season professional career and 12 of those games have come this season, but he hasn’t been able to stick up top.
Nelson says that patience is a virtue.
“I think it’s just time. I think it takes time for everybody to develop. You can look at Detroit’s system. You have (Gustav) Nyquist and (Tomas) Tatar that played three years in Grand Rapids, they played a full three years. You can go through a lot of their young guys… Those guys have spent a lot of time in the minors and now they’re contributing regularly for Detroit. That’s the way that I view a lot of our young guys. It’s a pretty big step and it takes a special player to make that jump from juniors or college right to the NHL. That’s why they’re here working on their games. For some players, it takes longer.
“For the development of Anton, you’ve got to remember, he jumped right from Europe to the National Hockey League. It was a situation where the organization had to work with that situation of the personnel that they had at the time. He’s a guy that probably should have been here his rookie season, the whole year. There’s ups and downs with development. But I think with Anton, with the way he’s playing right now, it’s trending upward.”
‘Trending upward’ has been the trend this season for Oilers prospects in OKC. Martin Marincin is settling in on the Oilers blue line while players like Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton also appear to be turning corners in their development. Add Lander’s offensive gains this season to that list of successes. However, it’s time that production translates to the higher league.
“What we have to do is have him translate that game to the National Hockey League and I think if he keeps on progressing, we have to get his confidence up where it’s unmatched,” Nelson said. “He’s playing very confident hockey, but I think there’s a whole other level he can get to. When he gets to that level, he’ll be a very good player in the National Hockey League.”
Nelson’s trust in Lander has helped push him closer to taking that next step.
“I have had Nelly as my coach for three years now and he knows me and I know him,” Lander said. “This year, he put a lot of pressure on me too and I think that’s what a player needs. If you have a coach that trusts you in a certain situation then you go out there and don’t let the team down. I’m happy with it and try to play better every game.”