PENTICTON, B.C. — One of the biggest weapons in Anton Lander’s arsenal is his head, so he listened last year when it told him he wasn’t ready for North America.
“I didn’t feel ready, both in the mind and in my strength,” said the 20-year-old Swedish centre. “I wanted to get better in every single part of my hockey, get some confidence with the puck. Be stronger and bigger.”
So while friend and former Timra teammate Magnus Paajarvi made the jump to the Edmonton Oilers, Lander stayed back in the Swedish Elite League. Better to wait and make a good first impression than to hurry and be overwhelmed.
A year later, with two goals and a solid all-around performance in his prospects tournament debut, his patience appears to be paying off.
“Last season was good for me, a good experience,” said Lander, an alternate captain on Sweden’s World Junior Team. “It made me a better hockey player.”
Oklahoma Barons coach Todd Nelson noticed it in a hurry.
“You hear all these positive things coming into camp and then you see the way that he plays, I’m definitely impressed,” said Nelson, who’s behind the bench for Edmonton at the Young Stars showcase. “He’s a good two way player but he’s more skilled than I thought he’d be.
“Besides his skill level and playing both ends very well, his character is exceptional. When you combine all those things he’s a pretty complete hockey player.”
Lander is the classic third-line centre, a guy who can win faceoffs, kill penalties, protect his own end and chip in some offence when the opportunity presents itself.
“He’s a player that I can use in every situation,” said Nelson. “If I need a big draw, or I need a big penalty kill or power play, he has that knack around the net, he’s just a complete hockey player and those guys are hard to find nowadays.”
Whether he follows in Paajarvi’s exact steps — straight to the NHL from his first camp — remains to be seen, but there seems little doubt he’ll get to Edmonton eventually.
“This is my dream,” he said. “I have just started it, it’s a long way to go before I’m playing NHL games, but I’m very excited.”
If Paajarvi can make it, and they were comparable talents in Sweden, it begs the obvious question: shouldn’t Lander’s progression be just as smooth?
“I don’t know,” he chuckled. “We are different players. I can say that. But I’m here to go for the Oilers. It’s a lot of hard work to do. Maggy did really good and of course I want that.”
The two friends talk a lot and Lander knows from those conversations that nothing in this journey will come easily.
“Maggy said it’s much, much more tougher mentally (than Sweden),” said Lander, adding it helps to have somebody who’s been through it, somebody he’s known a long time and can speak honestly with.
“I can ask him about everything, if I have questions about hockey or off the ice, he’s right there. It really helps to have him around.”
Right now, there are probably more off-ice questions than hockey related issues.
“It’s a new country, everything is new in my life right now,” said Lander. “That’s the big difference. Hockey, everyone knows what hockey is like — five on five, two goalies and three 20-minute periods, the same as back home. But everything else here is new.”