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Principe's Blog: Anton Souped Up

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Anton Lander skates during a drill at this past July's Oilers Development Camp at Millennium Place (Andy Devln / EOHC).
Did someone forget to tell Anton Lander that at least for one game it was supposed to be all about Ryan Nugent Hopkins in his opener at the Young Stars Tournament?

Apparently that was the case as it was Lander who left as the 'Star' in Edmonton's opening 7-2 win against Vancouver. Don't confuse this with Nugent-Hopkins playing like a nobody because in fact he was somebody who everyone wanted to see. The first overall pick didn't disappoint in flashing some sick hands and vision things we saw in abundance at the junior level.

However in Lander's case there was more of an unknown factor ever since Edmonton took him in the second round of the 2009 draft. Oilers fans in the last few years have been enamored with first round picks (Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle) or first overall selections (Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall) that it's hard to garner anywhere near the same kind of attention for anyone chosen out of the top 30.

That's why Lander's debut in Oilers colours was a revelation of what kind of player this kid could actually turn into and maybe sooner than might be expected.

I know one game at a rookie tournament...relax Principe...pop a pill or something to take the edge off this Anton Lander hype machine, but what a game it was. Maybe I was more impressed because I really wasn't sure what to expect from the 40th overall pick in 09.

He looked calm, composed and accurate with his ability to score. I guess most importantly he didn't look out of place. Similar to his fellow Swede and good friend Magnus Paajarvi who potted a hat trick in a game at the Young Stars tournament last year.

Lander kind of reminds me of Paajarvi when it comes to there maturity level. I'm not sure if it just happens to be these two kids or whether many of the young Swedes coming to North American hockey just act older than they are.

I understand that Anton, just like Magnus, has been playing against men on the same team, Timra, back home in the Swedish Elite League. He's been doing it, again just like Paajarvi, since he was 16. Hard to not act all grown up when that's who you are playing hockey with.

Everyone has been so busy discussing whether Nugent-Hopkins can make the direct jump from junior to the NHL that Lander's chances have been less prominent. Here's the thing: both these kids can't make the team right out of camp, or at least that's the way it looks. Edmonton already has Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Eric Belanger and Gilbert Brule can play centre as well. There might not be space to put an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old into the lineup at the same time. Edmonton made room for Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi all at once but that falls under the category of special circumstances and maybe special players.

Lander has said he's fine with playing games in Oklahoma City and there's a great chance that will be the case. However he could well be on his way to showing that while his pro career might start in the AHL it won't be long before he's in the NHL.

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