No player has struggled as to what their role is with the Edmonton Oilers more than Magnus Paajarvi. Drafted 10th overall in 2009, he was expected to the third member of the trifecta of young Oiler stars with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.
Fast forward three years and Eberle and Hall have established themselves as top six NHL forwards, whereas Paajarvi has struggled to find his game. He has also been replaced by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the name synonymous with Eberle and Hall.
Paajarvi has bounced back and forth between NHL and AHL, trying to find a home. Part of the issue is about what kind of role the Oilers see Paajarvi filling. In his rookie season, he showed some offensive promise by scoring 15 goals, but followed that up with only two the next year.
Having a tough time finding his offense isn’t good since at either level, the thought coming into this season was that he could be an effective bottom six player in the lineup. One of the more underrated areas of Paajarvi’s game is his two-way play. He is good defensively, positionally sound and works hard on the boards. That’s not to mention his biggest asset, which is his excellent speed, allowing him to can pounce on turnovers.
The issue is that he is considered soft in terms of physical play and does not often get engaged that way–which, if he is to play a third line role, he would be expected to do.
Recently he has had an opportunity to play on the second line in an offensive role and has responded with two goals in his last two games. He was one of the Oilers’ better forwards both nights. Playing primarily with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, Paajarvi used his speed effectively and has looked good.
The debate recently has been just who is the best fit on the wing for that line. Paajarvi has been battling with Ryan Jones and Nail Yakupov for playing time with Gagner and Hemsky and is looking to take a firm hold on the position. It is a small sample size and Paajarvi needs to show consistency, but the Oilers have been impressed with his last couple of games.
With the recent addition of Mike Brown, there is now a logjam of forwards on the NHL roster, and with Paajarvi having only a handful of games left until he would have to clear waivers before being sent to Oklahoma City, the Oilers have a decision to make.
My take? Leave him in the NHL for the rest of the season regardless and see what you have. Play him on the second or third line with consistent top nine minutes, give him some power play time and evaluate at season’s end. He is far too young and too talented a player to potentially lose on the waiver wire and for a player in need of confidence, it’s also important to avoid putting him on the AHL shuttle for this year.
For a league where speed is in high demand, Paajarvi has it more than most on the roster. He has shown more aggressiveness in the past couple of games and it may continue to grow with the more playing time and confidence he gets. Being sent down again to make room for someone like Brown or Ben Eager will not give the Oilers a chance to see whether Paajarvi can still be the player they expected when they drafted him in 2009.
This is the season to determine whether he is a mainstay or another expendable piece.