EDMONTON - Anton Lander determined to make the Edmonton Oilers sweat when they decide on their fourth centre.
The Swedish rookie was named the game's first star after getting a goal and an assist in his Oilers debut as Edmonton lost 4-3 to the Minnesota Wild to start the pre-season schedule for both teams.
Jared Spurgeon scored a pair of goals, including the power-play winner with 1:46 remaining in the third period with Taylor Hall in the penalty box for high-sticking Justin Falk while swinging at a loose puck. Jarod Palmer and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored in the win for the Wild.
But it was Lander who turned the most heads as he tries to join former Timra Swedish Elite League teammate Magnus Paajarvi on the Oilers this year.
Lander is in a dogfight with last year's first overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gilbert Brule for the fourth centre position on the team with Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger already written down in ink.
He knows he has to make the most out of every opportunity he gets in the pre-season. He scored three goals in two games as part of the Young Stars rookie tournament in B.C. last week.
"There was a big difference in the level of play tonight over Penticton," said Lander, a 40th overall selection in 2009. "Every day you could get cut so you have to take it day to day and give it your all out there.
"You can't let yourself think about how tight it is to get a spot in Edmonton, though. I have to go out there and play my game. I hope I made a good impression tonight."
Paajarvi, who also had a goal and an assist in the game for Edmonton playing on the same line, has no doubt that Lander will make a big impact on the Oilers—if not now, then soon.
"He has the qualities you need to crack the lineup. When, is all up to him," he said. "He has the motivation, the talent and the will to do it. If it is next year, or this year, it is all up to him."
Antti Tyrvainen scored the other goal for the Oilers, who played a split squad game, with another team defeating Chicago 4-2 at the same time in Saskatoon.
The Wild started the scoring just two minutes into the game as a weak clearing attempt by Hall led to a hopeful shot from the point by Spurgeon which deflected off the ankle of Edmonton's Martin Marancin and past goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Minnesota went up 2-0 on a power play with five minutes to go in the opening period. Khabibulin made a stop on the initial shot by Kyle Brodziak, but Palmer lifted the rebound into the net.
The Wild took a three-goal lead with a minute and a half to play in the first as Khabibulin waved at a top corner shot on a two-on-one by Bouchard.
Edmonton finally got on the board five minutes into the second just as a Minnesota penalty had expired. Lander corralled a rebound on a knuckleball point shot from Marincin and slipped the puck into the empty net behind Wild starter Josh Harding.
The teams both changed goalies at the midway point of the game. Tyler Bunz came on for Khabibulin, who made seven saves on 10 shots, and Matt Hackett replaced Harding, who stopped 14 of 15.
Edmonton started to pick up its game as the second wore on, cutting the lead to 3-2 with six minutes left as a Lander shot snuck under Hackett's arm and was deposited into the net by Paajarvi.
The Oilers tied the game two minutes later as a Taylor Fedun shot landed on the doorstep where Tyrvainen was able to send a nifty backhand past Hackett.
Early in the third, Minnesota’s Darroll Powe was given a five-minute boarding major for plowing Fedun head-first into the boards but the Oilers were unable to capitalize, allowing Sturgeon, a second-year member of the Wild who hails from Edmonton, to score the late power play winner.
"I don’t want to waste them all in pre-season," he said. "I was just trying to get pucks to the nets for the guys to get some rebounds and fortunately they went in.
"It's a lot easier when you’ve played a couple games from last year, you know what to expect out there. I heard my family up there. I guess I'm lucky to score here. They bring me luck."
Both teams continue the pre-season on Thursday as the Oilers play host to Vancouver and the Wild travel to St. Louis.
Notes: Tuesday marked the first exhibition action for both teams. The Oilers were also playing a split-squad game, with the likes of Ryan Smyth, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle facing off against Chicago at the same time in Saskatoon…Edmonton head coach Tom Renney accompanied the other squad to Saskatchewan, leaving Ralph Krueger and Steve Smith to guide the team in Edmonton…Edmonton star sophomore Taylor Hall last played on March 3 after a scrap with Columbus’Derek Dorsett…Goalie Josh Harding got his first start in net for the Wild since ripping up his knee almost a year ago. Former Blackhawks and Canadiens goalie Jeff Hacket’s nephew, Matt, served as the backup…Notably absent from the Wild lineup were major off-season acquisitions Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley…Edmonton native Matt Kassian was in the lineup for the Wild, trying to land an enforcer role. Kassian was a late training camp cut by Minnesota last year…Edmonton trimmed its camp roster to 57 players on Monday, sending 10 players packing before its first exhibition game.