On Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, Magnus Paajarvi went from being a healthy scratch to the game’s hero in a matter of hours.
Not expected to be in the lineup originally, he got the call less than an hour before game time after Lennart Petrell was struck with a puck in the pre-game warmup. He capped an Oiler 56-shot, come from behind victory with the game-winning goal in the third period off a pass from Ryan Smyth. It was his second game winner in three games.
It looks as though the speedy Swede may get yet another opportunity as he practiced today on a line with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. He may get his first crack at a top six role with the Edmonton Oilers.
Nail Yakupov, who has been part of that trio since the beginning of the year, was moved down to play with Eric Belanger and Ryan Smyth last game, and it looks as though he will stay on the third line for at least the time being. Teemu Hartikainen got the call to play with the second line last game against the Avalanche and played well. Paajarvi may be the next in line to get the chance to try his hand in that role tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Kings.
Paajarvi brings a different set of skills to the line than both Yakupov and Hartikainen. He’s also one of the fastest skaters on the squad, something that will come in handy playing with the skilled Gagner and Hemsky. The other thing he brings that the other two do not is a defensive presence. The part of his play that has been overlooked since he was drafted is his two-way abilities as he is far better defensively than he is given credit for.
Oilers coaching have been grooming that part of his game over the last year and a half, and he has seen some significant penalty kill time for the Oilers this season with injuries to players like Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones and Petrell. He has used his speed effectively, and even scored a shorthanded goal a couple of games ago.
This could be key because as well as the Oilers second unit has produced offensively, they have been the weakest line defensively and have given up a number of good chances against. With both Horcoff and Jones getting ready to return from injury over the next couple of weeks, Paajarvi will have to make the most of his opportunity and prove he deserves to stay and not go back to the Oklahoma City shuttle.
Although he hasn’t lived up to expectations in his first few seasons, at just 21 years of age, he may have a perfect chance to prove that he can still be the player the Oilers thought they were getting when the drafted him in 2009.