a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

11/29/11 Lander Should Not Have Remained in the NHL

Before all the Anton Lander fans out there decide they want to start putting anthrax in my pillowcase, it should be said that Lander is a good player and will be part of the future of the Oilers. It's just that the future isn't now.

The decision to keep Lander in the NHL even after Sam Gagner returned from injury has had far reaching effects on the team. Through no fault of his own (at least to begin with), Gagner was unable to slot into his natural position at center because the Oilers had four healthy ones already in RNH, Horcoff, Belanger and Lander. After coming off a season shortened by injury and having to start the season late because of one, Gagner was being unintentionally set up to fail. On a team deep in wingers, Gagner had no hope of breaking into the top six, and was playing out of position.

A lot of the rationale for keeping Lander was that he was playing well in his role, which is true. Anton Lander is a good hockey player and the penalty kill was performing admirably. As a matter of fact, the Oilers' penalty kill is 9th in the NHL at the moment, so the team must be doing something right. However, Lander is sitting down in 10th among the Oilers when it comes to PK ice time per game, and 5th among the forwards. The only other forward that averages more than a minute of PK time per game is Lennart Petrell, which means Lander is essentially the second-least active forward among the regular penalty killing forwards.

His faceoff ability is certainly no better than Gagner's either. He's 68 and 107 in the NHL this year, for a 38.8% total. Gagner is sitting at 48.5% after 66 draws.

Lander has put up 2 points in 23 games thus far, which means that he's on pace for just 7 points all year. His lack of offensive contribution has been part of the struggles of the bottom six to chip in some goals.

But it's hard to put up offensive numbers when you're not getting any ice time. Only Petrell, Eager and Hordichuk are averaging less ice time per game than Lander is. He's currently counted on for 11:08 of ice time per night, and 1:41 seconds of that is shorthanded. Much like Hartikainen, it would probably be better for Lander to have learned the pro game in the AHL by playing in all situations and lots of minutes each night.

Now that Taylor Hall is injured the Oilers are stuck keeping Lander in this situation (although he may now be injured as well), but it could have and should have been rectified a long time ago. Anton Lander played well enough in camp to earn an NHL spot and Gagner's injury sealed it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he should be in the NHL when the Oilers have other options. Jeff Petry was demoted so that his development wouldn't be stunted by lack of playing time, and that same path should be taken with the forwards when necessary.

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