Anton Lander faces a part-of-the-business element other Barons have faced during the four years the Edmonton Oilers’ American Hockey League afilliate has played in Oklahoma City.
Lander might be playing his final game for the Barons at the Cox Convention Saturday night if they don’t rally in a first-round playoff series against the Texas Stars, the Western Conference’s top seed.
“It’s not anything you can control,” said Lander, who will be a free agent after the season. “Of course, I have my opinion on things when it comes to offers from both here and in Europe, but it’s not anything I’m thinking about right now. I’m looking at the right-here, right-now.”
The Stars lead the best-of-5 series 1-0 after rallying for a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 on Wednesday at the Cox Center.
It’s not an elimination a game but essentially is a must-win game for the Barons. A loss Saturday and OKC would be forced to win three consecutive games next week at the Cedar Park Center.
“Playing in the playoffs is the best part of the game, the reason we all love to play hockey,” said Lander, the team captain. “My only focus is on the next game Saturday night.”
In his third and final year of his entry-level contract, Lander’s future will be in limbo heading into the off-season.
“Every hockey player goes through it,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “You have to be patient and see what’s out there. Things sometimes unfold quickly, but sometimes they drag on. Hockey players, all professional athletes, know that’s part of it.”
The Oilers’ second-round pick five years ago, the one criticism on Lander has been an inability to contribute offensively at the NHL level.
In 94 NHL games, Lander has only eight points. But the Oilers have firepower in players such as Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
But with the Barons, Lander’s offensive production skyrocketed this season. He was named the Barons MVP.
After scoring 25 points in 62 games his first two seasons with the Barons, Lander averaged more than a point a game (52 points in 46 games) this season.
“He’s always been a solid character guy,” Nelson said. “That’s the first and foremost thing you think of when you talk about Anton. He plays a strong two-way game, but the second half of last year and all of this year he’s found that scoring touch and is making plays.”
The Sundsvall, Sweden, native celebrated his 23rd birthday Thursday. It’s uncertain whether the Oilers will re-sign him.
In a perfect setting, this would be Lander’s final go-round with the Barons either way. His ultimate goal is to stick in the NHL, hopefully the Oilers.
“I have a lot of great memories here in Oklahoma City,” Lander said. “It’s a great city. The people are so kind and so friendly.”
At some point this summer Lander will find out his future.
“He keeps getting better and better,” Nelson said. “He’s still young. He has a bright future ahead of him.
“I think he’ll still get a chance to play in the National Hockey League. If it’s the Oilers, great. If it’s someone else, great. It’s a matter of finding the right fit.”