Oklahoma City Barons center Anton Lander is the antithesis of fellow Swede Linus Omark. Lander provides solid around play but rarely appears on stat sheets.
When Edmonton recalled forwards Ben Eager and Tyler Pitlick earlier this week, it was a sign Lander might be falling on the Oilers' organizational depth chart.
Edmonton has experienced a rash of injuries, especially at center, but Lander has remained with the Barons, who play the Rampage on Friday and Saturday nights at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
“I know I need to work on my offense,” Lander said. “When they sent me down they said I'm playing too safe. That's something I've been trying to work on for two years. It's not that easy. It comes with confidence. You gain confidence when you play good and score goals.”
Omark is just the opposite. He's an offensive machine but sometimes plays recklessly.
“I watch what Linus does out there,” Lander said. “I try to read what he's doing and try to learn from him.”
Lander, 22, still has some upside.
In junior international competition, where Lander and Omark first met, Lander scored 23 points in 24 games for Sweden over a four-year span.
The first time Barons coach Todd Nelson saw Lander was three years ago in the summer developmental league.
“His biggest strength is he's very responsible defensively, but he has some offensive skill,” Nelson said. “You could see that three years ago.”
So far that offensive skill hasn't consistently produced goals.
At ages 16, 17, 18 and 19, Lander scored only 53 points in 177 games in Sweden's pro league.
Still, hopes were high. Edmonton selected Lander in the second round midway through his teenage career back home.
His first year in North America, at age 20, Lander played most of the season with Edmonton but scored only six points in 56 games.
“For Anton, the biggest thing is he went through a lot of transition his first year, playing right away in the NHL,” said Barons general manager Bill Scott. “It sometimes takes a player a little longer to develop over here. He's two-way a center. That's what he's going to be at the next level as well.”
Lander, though, has yet to prove he's a two-way center. Last year, during the NHL lockout season, Lander spent the bulk of his time in OKC. He scored only one point in 11 games with Edmonton, 20 points in 47 games with the Barons.
What's the key for Lander to improve his offensive production?
“He just needs to play with more confidence with the puck,” Scott said. “To play in the NHL you have to be really good with the puck. It's an area of his game that he's worked hard on and he's starting to get rewarded.
“Anton's had to find his confidence again and I think he's found it. I think he found it late last year with us when he had that six-point night in Rockford. He just needs to keep plugging away.”
In seven games this season with the Barons Lander has scored five points. That's a slight improvement. If he consistently produces in OKC he could get another shot with the Oilers.
“When he was with Edmonton he was on the fourth line, and his offensive skills diminished,” Nelson said. “We're putting put him in situations to succeed offensively. He's on the power play. He just needs to be more consistent.”
In the final year of a three-year, entry-level deal, Lander's career is at a crossroads. Next season, Edmonton could re-sign him. He might be forced to land with another NHL organization or play in one of Europe's pro leagues.
“I can't focus on anything more than the next game,” Lander said. “It's my third year over here. I'm trying to be more of a leader, help the new guys, put the puck in the net and win games. That's what it's all about.”