One of the things that Dallas Eakins said about post-Olympic break hockey for Edmonton is that it would be a time for auditions.
Now Taylor Hall isn't doing any auditioning, unless it's for another commercial with Crystal Glass. Jordan Eberle knows he has a job as does Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. However, there are players younger and older who are wondering if they have a spot with the Oilers next season. If they don’t, they will be given a chance to get one. Anton Lander is one of those players who falls directly in that category.
Before we move ahead, let's go backwards and remember when the Oilers originally selected him. It was 2009 and after using a first-round pick on a Swede named Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, they followed that up with selection number 40 for Lander. He was coming off seasons spent in the Swedish Elite League. He was a boy playing with men. It wasn't right away that he came over to North America, instead he spent another season overseas before coming to Edmonton. His numbers in Sweden went from three to 10 to 16 and then 26 points in his final year. It was slow and steady growth for a player not in any rush, nor being rushed to make it to the NHL.
It was clear that the plan for Lander was to learn what he could in the AHL before coming to the NHL.
The learning curve took a steep turn upwards when he played 56 games with Edmonton in the 2011-12 season. Onward and forward appeared to be the case for Lander but instead it was more OKC and less EDM for Lander last season.
He spent only 11 games with the Oilers. Instead, he was left on the farm to grow, develop and establish himself. That was the plan last season and that plan had been extended to the current campaign. Lander got beat out for a job with the Oilers at camp, which meant more time in Oklahoma City.
One thing he proved while in the AHL is that he can play, he can put up points (48) and that he can lead, as witnessed by the fact he was named captain of the Barons. There is always a lot that can be learned playing somewhere other than the NHL but at some point the team and player need to know what he can do in the big leagues. That's where we find Anton Lander now. He will play his 19th game of the season and 86th of his Oilers career Friday against Anaheim. He's basically one full season into proving what he can do. This latest stint has not been his longest but his best to show what he's got.
It's always difficult for a player to get called up and then get shuffled onto the 4th line and under those circumstances, prove that they should stay. However, this time for Lander, Edmonton has been the land of opportunity. Due to injuries, he's been higher on the pecking order of lines. He's played centre on the top line and wing alongside Ryan Nugent Hopkins. It's really given him a chance to show he's more than a one position/one dimensional player.
Dallas Eakins wasn't kidding about this audition thing.
Lander's ice time has hit a high of 21:26 and hasn't gone lower than 14:29. That is ample opportunity to show your stuff. If that continues, it will give the 22 year-old his best chance with Edmonton of being able to Land-er a job.