Monday, September 12, 2011

On Making a Good First Impression

Last night, Edmonton Oilers fans got their first look at Anton Lander in a game situation and the 2009 2nd round pick definitely did not disappoint. Over the past 2 years the talk about Lander's complete 2-way game has been building around Oil Country, but perhaps the biggest praise came earlier this week from Lander's long time friend and teammate Magnus Paajarvi:

"He's one of the best guys I know as a human being and as a person. He's a very good leader on the ice, and he's very solid at everything. He can do anything." Those are pretty strong words coming from a player who possesses a solid skill set himself.

While the quality of competition from the Vancouver Canucks prospect roster was hardly NHL caliber, Lander still showed off the game that Oilers fans had already heard so much about in the 7-2 victory. Lander not only scored twice on the powerplay, but played physical, strong defensively, won faceoffs, and showed a lot of poise and good hockey sense. The fact that he has been playing against men in the Swedish Elite League for the past 4 years has certainly helped his development, and it showed on Sunday night in Penticton as he played like a veteran among rookies. Combined with his strong leadership qualities and his ability to play in all situations, in Lander it appears as if the Oilers have the makings of a pretty complete hockey player who is still just 20 years old. Now of course it was only one game in a prospect tournament, and as such the results should be taken with a grain of salt, but the potential is there for Lander to become a dependable center in the near future for the Edmonton Oilers. Picking Lander at 40th overall in the 2009 draft may turn out to be another home run for Stu MacGregor and his staff.

Of course, not to be outdone by Anton Lander last night was the one that everyone came out and tuned in to see, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While RNH didn't quite put on the show that Lander did, he still showed the great vision, quick hands, quick feet, and agility that made him the first overall pick at the NHL draft earlier this summer.

While it was a good Oilers debut for Lander and Nugent-Hopkins, the reality is that they will both be in a tough competition to play in the NHL this season when main camp starts. At this point, the Oilers are heading into training camp with a log jam of centers, including Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Eric Belanger, and Gilbert Brule, with the first three mentioned essentially guaranteed a roster spot already. Should RNH prove in the preseason that he is ready to play in the NHL then Lander may end up getting caught in the numbers game and be forced to start in AHL, which may not be a bad thing. Though if RNH ends up back in Red Deer, Lander will certainly have a good opportunity to win that 4th center position on the Oilers depth chart out of camp. Let's just hope that when training camp opens in a week, these players can prove true the old adage that competition breeds success.

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