The Tale of Being Underrated: Anton Lander
Every year when the Draft comes around, the first round comprises mainly of those offensive star prospects. Those guys who can score that big goal and give you that lift offensively. Sure you can have that big two-way stalwart like Matt Duchene, but he wouldn't have gone nearly as high as he did if it wasn't for his offensive skill set and production.
There is an outlier every here and there, such as Jared Cowen who while he has some slight offensive upside, so did Mike Komisarek coming out of college (now a career .03 GPG and .16 PPG in the NHL). I'm not saying Cowen won't contribute offensively, Komisarek definitely showed he could in his early development years, posting five goals and 30 points in 56 games in the AHL as a 21-year-old, as well as some very solid years in Michigan, but Senators fans should be wary.
However other defenseman all have offensive upside, be it Victor Hedman, Oliver-Ekman Larsson, Ryan Ellis, Calvin de Haan, Dmitri Kulikov, Nick Leddy, David Rundblad, John Moore and the latter three in my opinion are huge red flags, but thats a post for another day.
While Hedman, Larsson, De Haan and Kulikov can play at both ends they all had monster years with their respective teams (when you consider league quality such as the high-level SEL or the fairly competitive Allsvenkanen).
Forwards, it's not even debatable: You can't score you won't be taken high. However, this is where the curious case of Anton Lander comes along.
Lander had a very impressive year in the SEL for Timra IK, notching four goals and 10 points in 47 games. While the raw numbers may not look great, take into account the guy only turned 18 in April of this season and has already accumulated 79 games of SEL experience.
He also only played seven minutes and 39 seconds of hockey per game with Timra. You can adjust that anyway you want to but bottom line, in that particular SEL season in a production per minute standpoint, Lander played at least somewhat on par with top prospects MPS and Jacob Josefson offensively.
This always could be an issue of sample size, maybe Lander had a lucky year and he's nowhere near that capable offensively, yet you only need to look at his track record to see production at seemingly every level he's played at, be it the international play at the U-18s or in the Swedish Junior league.
While I'm wary of looking at a small number of games and drawing a conclusion, Lander's picture as a whole, is certainly impressive. Look for him to be a key cog for Sweden at the World Juniors this year, as it seems at least his coaches know how valuable he is.
So why did Lander slip all the way to pick No. 40 to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round? Let's analyze his scouting report, courtesy of ISS (where they ranked him 47th).
They use a report card scoring system, where they deem his "puck skills" and offensive play are just average along with his physical play. Again if he does have average offensive play, someone please direct me to it.
Future Considerations had this to say about Lander's weaknesses (ranked 64th):
A sluggish skater with slow feet...he has a tendency to over-handle the puck.. he needs good players around him to be successful...no physical element in his game.
However, both of those services absolutely lavish on his work ethic, his amazing defensive play and hockey sense. ISS calls him the second-best defensive forward in the '09 Draft and the second-best faceoff man.
As I touched on before, this doesn't tend to be valued unless it's coupled with great offensive ability. However the issue is Lander doesn't have the offensive ability, he has the offensive production.
Lander is never going to "wow" people with a dazzling deke or a seeing-eye pass, but he gets the job done. He drives to the net, he can make good passes and he has a good shot. He's not a scout's dream, he's a statistician's dream, a guy who has the numbers but doesn't have the "package" talent evaluators covet.
However the key here is the defensive play, one only needs to refer to Player Contribution ,or GVT to see how valuable defensive contribution is to a team. Can you find checker and defensive contribution lower in the draft?
Of course, but Lander brings an elite defensive package to the table as well as great offensive production that makes him so valuable, and in my opinion one of the elite prospects in the 2009 class.
Anton Lander will be reviewed upon as the year goes on, but I stand firmly by my slotting him at No. 12 in my Draft rankings.
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