What Magnus Paajarvi Needs To Do More Frequently

Jonathan Willis
September 27 2012 08:21AM

I’ve recently started re-watching Oilers games from last season, partly for a new statistical project and partly because I like watching hockey games and the AHL season hasn’t started yet. Anyway, watching the Oilers’ season opener, I was struck by the play of Magnus Paajarvi.

Paajarvi stormed down the right wing, blew past the defenceman, and charged the net. He didn’t end up scoring – ultimately he went right past goaltender Brent Johnson and into the back of the net, but failed to take the puck with him – but it was the kind of aggressive, power-forward move that he tries all too infrequently.

Here’s what Sportsnet colour commentator (and ex-NHL’er) Louie DeBrusk had to say about the play:

Great drive wide, and I like seeing this from Magnus Paajarvi. He’s a big body, he’s strong. He came into camp in terrific shape, made great strides in the off-season with his conditioning. He goes right through the five hole of Brent Johnson into the net. You like to see that reckless abandon, driving himself into the net and testing the defence.

Paajarvi had a good game anyway – he was flying all night and spent a lot of time advancing the puck – but that power forward dimension is one he doesn’t always show and if he could add it to his game it could make him a star.

Back to Draft Day

Paajarvi was highly-touted back in 2009, when the Oilers made him the 10th overall pick at that summer’s draft. The reaction of most draft followers – myself included – was surprise that Paajarvi fell to 10th overall, and there was no mistaking Steve Tambellini’s excitement as he made the pick.

Still, there’s a quote from that time period that interested me at the time, one that I’ve mentioned previously. It’s from an anonymous NHL scout, and was included in The Hockey News’ 2009 Draft Preview edition:

With his ability to get around forwards and the way the game is called now, he’ll draw two minor penalties a game with his outside speed. Once he gets not to fear that initial step to the net, it will be huge. It’s just not natural for him yet.

It’s an almost prophetic comment in retrospect; the only problem is that Paajarvi hasn’t learned to drive toward the net on a regular basis, yet. But, now as then, the potential’s there for him to add that move to his repertoire more consistently.

Maybe he won’t. Paajarvi’s a profoundly talented player, even without a power forward mentality – he’s blessed with tremendous skating ability and he has the kind of two-way instincts that very few players his age possess. I think he’s going to be a useful NHL’er for a long time.

But it’s hard, watching him drive to the net as he did against Pittsburgh, not to wonder just how good he could be if he played with just a little more aggression.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
#51 Mike Modano's Dog
September 29 2012, 07:54AM
Trash it!

Put him with quality OFFENCE-MINDED linemates and see what he can do. Put him in a checker's role, with checkers and ask him to play with a checker's mentality and you're forcing him to be something he's not!

I am MPS's biggest fan, IMO. And yes, I read that same article in 2009 Hockey News. I do recognize that his biggest weakness is his inability to play tough.

That said, as with every player do you work on improving your deficiencies, or do you play to your strengths? Old days it was the former, today players are trained to not only work on - but play to their strengths...rather than make sure everyone tries to be the same complete player (cookie-cutter types). You get much more dynamic skill-sets that way, and MPS has the most dynamic skill set skating and dangling that I have seen in years here in Edmonton.

Hall will always be a much more physical player - and he is a franchise player. We cannot judge MPS and compare him to a guy touted, for years, to be a #1 overall pick. (I'm not saying anyone is, though) My point is he DOES NOT need to learn to be a crusher to play in the N.H.L. and be effective there. Remember he did win the trophy as the best winger in the World Championships, the same one with Ovechkin and other NHL'ers present. He has the ability to be extraordinary.

Don't ask him to be Ryan Jones, Lucic, or any other power forward or you will be disappointed. He never will be. It's not in his blood. But if you put him with dynamic offensive players and give him a chance he WILL keep improving as he builds a repoire with those players.

I would ask that you keep two important things in mind when assessing his future potential:

One, he barely speaks the language - was scripted to play with Omark and Lander last year. His only game with them last year - an exhibition game, he scored two (big) goals and was the game's first star...the line was unstoppable in that game. With others it appeared he did have trouble communicating and getting in sync. It is on him to improve his language skills and open up in communicating to the rest of the team, even though he is a relative newcomer to our continent and language. It does take some players longer to adjust than others, and I do believe his shyness does make that a more difficult proposition, though.

Two, he has only been playing forward for a very few years. He grew up as a d-man. So his skating is superb and his rushing skills, sublime...but his finish, and moves around the net are NOT a finished product yet. Give him time to develop them with talented players to learn this. In the meantime do not run him out of town for not being a complete player yet, at 21 years old.

He has an excellent attitude; his compete level is off the charts - in regards to effort given every shift! He is so defensively responsible it actually hurts his offense at this point of his career, and as a young player that is so rare to find...the opposite of a selfish player! He will learn the rest. I think he is the perfect number two winger we have been looking for - once Ryan Smyth and Hemsky are no longer up for that role here.

Let him develop for that role; he's NEVER going to be a checker. You're wasting his considerable talents if that is what you are looking for out of him. I know the Oilers need a power forward but he isn't one, despite the size he has. That's not a knock against him; you just need to have that mentality. Don't punish him for being Kurri when you want Messier (sorry to use those guys as a very poor example, just said it for clarity not as a comparison!) I love this player, though, and can't wait for the Oilers to use him properly!

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