With the forward group being as close to 100% healthy as they have been all season, the Edmonton Oilers now have to take a hard long look at what to do with centre Anton Lander. With the club wrapping up their six game road trip today in Chicago, word is that Lander will be taking a turn in the press box. With the the third line struggling all season long, one would have thought this move might have been made much sooner.
The young Swede has done all that has been asked of him but ultimately, he is caught in a numbers crunch. The Oilers have tried using Sam Gagner on the wing, which has failed miserably, to allow Lander the opportunity to centre the fourth line and Eric Belanger the chance to play the middle on the third line. It's been ten games since Gagner returned from his high ankle sprain and the third line has shown no signs of improvement. That being the case, the next logical step would be taking Lander out and moving Belanger and Gagner.
Coach Tom Renney loves what Lander brings to the table and it's not hard to see why that is. More often then not, the kid is in good position on the ice and has already proved that he will do whatever this club needs to be successful. It simply comes down to two things, the aforementioned numbers crunch but more importantly, the development of the player. Long term, the organization envisions Lander as this clubs third line centre, if not second, for years to come. If they want the 20 year old to develop properly, having him playing major minutes with the Barons, in all situations, would be the best thing for him.
As good as Anton has been in his limited role, there are areas in his game that need improvements. Like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he has struggled with the physical aspect of the game and in the faceoff circle. His faceoff success rate of 37.2% is not much better then Nugent-Hopkins and his 32.6%. The talented centre has been a regular on the Oilers third penalty killing unit and while he has been good, it is not surprising that he has been on for five of the eight goals that Edmonton have allowed on the season. That's two more then Lennert Petrell and Shawn Horcoff, who are next with three but both play a more prominent role on the kill. While this will leave the PK with one less centre, I am sure Belanger will be more then capable of picking up a little extra time when the club is short-handed...especially since he will see his 5-on-5 time reduced.
As much as things need to be sorted out on the big club, the priority must remain the development of the rookie centre. While he is more then capable of playing ten minutes a night on the fourth line in Edmonton, I feel playing in Oklahoma City in all situations is just what the youngster needs. Add to that, the possibility of placing him on a line with Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark in OKC and the move seems like a no-brainer. It's unclear what Omark's future will be in Edmonton but all signs are pointing towards the team using Hartikainen and Lander in third line roles. The opportunity to have these guys playing with one another before they become full-time NHL players, is reason enough to make the move. In fact, if the Oilers manage to sign Ales Hemsky or decide to bring in another top six forward for the 2012-2013 season, a line of Paajarvi-Lander-Hatikainen would not be out of the question.
For the betterment of club, the best case scnerio is for the Oilers to assign Anton Lander to Oklahoma City upon the clubs return from their six game road trip. While I have no doubt that Lander wants to stay in Edmonton, for his long term development, a trip down to Oklahoma City would be for the best.