For Oilers prospect Anton Lander, the road to the NHL has had its bumps and its fair share of delays. Through injuries and minor league assignments, the Oilers forward has continued to pursue his dream of full-time NHL duty. It's a dream he's chased in blue and orange since Edmonton chose him in the second round of the 2009 draft.
As a rookie in 2011-12, he skated in 56 games with the big club and scored just two goals with four assists in limited minutes. In 2012-13, he was riddled with injuries. First his foot and then his knee which kept him from seeing consistent ice-time, hampering his development.
Flashing forward to this season, Lander failed to make the Oilers out of camp but began to find a rhythm with the Oilers' affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons.
Lander, in eight games with OKC, has six points including two goals. He has played top-line minutes for the farm club and has earned the respect of his locker room. The Barons named him their 2013-14 team captain.
"To be a captain down there, is a big honour," said Lander.
The Sundsvall, Sweden product is proud to have been named team captain in OKC, but he admits his eyes remain locked on a job over 2800 kilometres away.
"You want to play up here. That's why you are working out in the summer. That's why you do those extra things on the ice. It's to earn a spot on the Oilers."
Länder was recalled by the Oilers to fill a depth role following, fellow prospect, Tyler Pitlick's injury. He played in one game for the Oilers against Los Angeles before being sent back down to OKC. He was asked to abandon his normal position at centre to provide depth on the wing. He says that he was just excited to get back into NHL action.
"For me, it was fun to play again. I felt pretty good out there. There were a couple of new things with the system, especially on the wing, but it was fun to be out there."
When asked if it is frustrating to be called back up, sent back down and then called back up again in rapid succession, Lander says that's the business.
"There's nothing you can do about it. You just need to be prepared for anything that can happen and try to make the best of the situation."
While Lander remains focused on making the Oilers, he knows that if sent back to OKC he will be expected to lead. It comes with the 'C' embroidered on his Barons jersey. The responsibility has not changed the forward's approach.
"Nothing has changed about me," the captain said. "I'll keep being myself and keep doing what I do."
The 22-year-old is the youngest captain in Barons history and is also the only Oilers drafted player to earn that spot.
"I didn't know that. It's fun to hear. It's always something when you hear that, you can be proud of yourself. But, I am not doing anything different after being named captain. You just keep doing what you're doing, be yourself and right now my focus is on the Oilers here. We need to win. We need to win the next game. That's what I'm thinking right now and what we have to do."
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