What Magnus Paajarvi Needs To Do More Frequently

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.

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