After watching Magnus Paajarvi during last years rookie camp at the Clareview Arena, I had flashes of a young Mike Modano run through my head. When Paajarvi takes flight in the neutral zone with a head of steam, he is an absolute joy to watch. As he becomes more comfortable with the North American game and puts on a little more muscle onto his frame, he may very well end up becoming the best all around player of the Oilers young forward group.
When Paajarvi arrived in Edmonton, many critics and fans believed he was "the most NHL ready" of the three youngsters that started upfront for the Oilers in 2010-2011. Even though he had played three seasons in the Swedish Elite league, it became evident very early on that he would need time to adjust to the North American game. To the organizations credit, they did not panic amongst calls for Magnus to be sent down to Oklahoma City by fans and media alike. Many felt a stint on the farm would help him find his game. They thought he would dominate with the Barons and return ready for the NHL. When all that was actually needed, was to show patience with the young Swede. He needed time to adjust to the speed and level of physicality that the game is played with at the NHL level. Going down to the farm would have been the worst thing the Oilers could have done for the young mans confidence. He was struggling with his game already and demoting him to the AHL probably would have left him doubting his abilities. Instead, the staff worked through the growing pains and let Paajarvi have some much needed on the job training. Long term, he will be a better player because of that decision.
Looking towards the coming season, Paajarvi and fellow countryman Linus Omark will continue to man the wings on the Oilers third line but with a major adjustment. I fully expect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to make the club out of camp and stay with the team all season long. With that being case, it looks as though the two young Swedes will get the same treatment as Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle did in 2010-2011, having captain Shawn Horcoff as their centre. It was apparent, to anyone watching, that Omark and Paajarvi had instant chemistry with one another. Be it because they are both Swedes and think the game a like or perhaps it was something else, yet the chemistry is undeniable. Adding Horcoff to that line will bring stability and give the captain the opportunity to help both develop their all around games. Look for Horcoff to offer much more support down low to win battles that either Andrew Cogliano or Sam Gagner. Horcoff will do what is necessary for this team to succeed and both Omark and Paajarvi will benefit from playing regularly with #10.
Magnus is be far and away the most responsible of all the kids in his own end. His ability to effortlessly take a few strides and instantly be back in the play to support his defence is one of his greatest assets as a player. The kid clearly thinks the game at a high level, at both ends of the ice. As the season progresses and Paajarvi becomes more comfortable with his game, I expect him to be given an opportunity on the penalty kill. His smarts, size and speed is something that not one Edmonton Oilers player has had in their tool box to use on the penalty kill since the departure of Mark Messier. Not comparing the two as players but the one aspect Messier always brought to the Oilers penalty kill was pressure...and he did it with his smarts, size and speed. Paajarvi clearly has to add more muscle to his frame but already being 6'3" and 200 lbs tells me the young man will be smart enough to use that size to his advantage throughout his NHL career.
With the Oilers current roster of forwards the 2011-2012 season will be used as another season of development for Magnus Paajarvi. Having a steady veteran presence on his line and playing a full season with Omark should do wonders for his game and make him a much more consistent player on a nightly basis. Come 2012-2013, look for Paajarvi to claim his spot as a regular in the Oilers top six. Once he fully develops his game and becomes comfortable in his NHL skin there is little doubt in my mind he will have great NHL career. He should continue on his progression towards becoming the Oilers best all around forward and not see nearly the fanfare that some of his teammates surely will. Though I doubt his importance will go unnoticed inside the four walls of Edmonton's dressing room.
2011-2012 Prediction: 15 G - 25 A - 40 Pts