Magnus in the Middle

Am I crazy for thinking this? Could Magnus Paajarvi be tried out as a potential center?

The left-wing position in the top-nine is beginning to fill up with Hall, Hartikainen, Paajarvi, and the re-signed Ryan Smyth and Lennart Petrell. Now Petrell is an easy waiver casualty if the Oilers decide to keep both the Swede and the Finn on the roster if we have a 2013 season.

The center position, however, has some gaps that may open up if this CBA takes shape under the current NHL proposal. If the CBA allows for a one-time contract buyout available prior to the beginning of whatever smoldering remains there are of this season, then it is very likely that Shawn Horcoff is the bearer of that one contract.

Currently the center depth chart is Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Horcoff, and Belanger. Chris Vande Velde, Anton Lander, and Marc Arcobello are the professional options after that. Of those, only Vande Velde is a player one would describe as large or capable of playing a physical game.

Should Horcoff be bought out in a cap amnesty, that would likely herald the promotion of Belanger to the 3rd line. Meanwhile, the 4th line position would go either to Vande Velde or Lander (my preference is for the former at this stage). Despite this, the Oilers do not appear enamoured with Sam Gagner as their future 2nd line center, based on contract negotiations and his signing a one-year deal this past summer.

All three of these players are likely short-term options. Vande Velde will become an RFA at the end of this season, while Belanger has one season remaining after this one and there have already been rumours of his wanted to move on.

Arcobello is an RFA as well, and the Oilers will need to determine whether he has NHL potential and is worth a contract spot on the reserve list.Call me a cynic, but even if the young man does display enough talent and skill to play in the NHL, I tend to think that the Oilers will pass him over in search of size.

The fact is that the Oilers have coveted a large-bodied center since Oct 4, 1991 when they traded Mark Messier.

I think the Oilers were really hoping to address this last June when they tried to trade up to take Henrik Samuelsson at the draft. Phoenix knew they could get him and weren’t interested in what Tambellini was offering, although we have no idea right now how high the bidding went.

Trading for that big-bodied center is an option, but at what cost? Considering that the Oilers are still working at winnowing their draft wheat from the chaff, I suspect they would be reluctant to reduce their prospect numbers right now to address this situation. Also, when the entire hockey world hears about your great wealth of forward talent, what do you suppose an opposing GM is going to ask for in trade negotiations? It isn’t going to be Tyler Pitlick and a 3rd round pick.

Jakub Voracek would be nice. Brayden Schenn. Even Sean Couturier, if it could be done. But none of those players are coming this way because the Oilers don’t have the assets needed to pry those players loose without parting with one of their key young players. Nor do they have enough surplus assets to deal for a player who could, in turn, be flipped for any of those young players.

I’ve wondered if they could make a deal for Jay Bouwmeester and then move him for Couturier or Schenn, or some such Byzantine arrangement, but that all seems a little too far-fetched.

What to do?

This leaves me wondering, are there internal options that could be explored.

Crazy Talk

So would it be worthwhile for the Oilers to try Paajarvi at center?

He is a large body. His skating is superb and he has shown a penchant for carrying the puck up the ice, as well as proving that he has some underrated playmaking ability. He isn’t a bull in a china shop, but he does fit a few of the oft-cited criteria for which fans and the team appear to be looking. Paajarvi began his hockey career at defense, but was converted to forward when he was still fairly young to take advantage of his skating and size. To this day he appears to have retained his defense-first mentality.

From Todd Nelson via an interview with Jason Gregor "I think he’s probably, pretty much, a playmaker. He gets opportunities in the game. Scoring goals doesn’t come natural, like maybe it would with Jordan Eberle. He has to work for everything he gets."

There’s a center in there. Hard work, big body, quick skater, mind of a playmaker, defensive reliability sometimes to the detriment of his offensive game. Sounds like the kind of guy who used to get a tonne of ice time under the old MacT coaching regime.

In his rookie season, 2010-2011, his numbers ran 80gp, 11g, 144 shots, 48 saves, 30.3 average shooting distance, with a very low 5.4 shooting percentage. If he were a blueliner we’d say that is a pretty promising rookie season. As a winger it wasn’t even all that bad. The shooting percentage would rise, wouldn’t it? He’d learn to shoot more, and from closer in. He’d learn to take the puck to the net.

He didn’t and his sophomore season was less impressive. The 2011-2012 season, he played 41 games, 2g, 64 shots, 20 saves, 29.2 average shooting distance, and his shooting percentage was actually halved from the previous season to 2.3%. He has been a plus player in every one but three of his professional seasons, two of those being his time on a dismal Oilers squad, though, so scoring aside, his play away from and around the puck would seem to indicate that he is someone who understands the game well enough to earn ice time and opportunity.

Paajarvi’s post-season in the AHL got some attention as he began to take shape as a playmaker. He was creating plays, and bringing success to his linemates. Paajarvi’s ability to read the play, as developed from his defensive mindset, began to be used to anticipate and be proactive in his offensive game, rather than reactive as a d-man is required to be.

There is a player here. Of that I am certain.

When Paajarvi was sent down to Oklahoma City he was positive and mature in his perspective on the move. Where there is often a common perception of demotion to the AHL, even the term implies the negative, Paajarvi embraced the opportunity to get more ice time, play a more prominent role, and try to work on the aspects of his game that were lacking. He has been a good soldier, and there is value there.

Now, to be clear here, I am not suggesting that Paajarvi could switch from LW to C and suddenly go from being a third-line option to a 2nd line center. I’m saying that if he could make the switch he might become a better third-line center than winger, and knocking the other centers, current and potential, down the depth chart can only help.

Trade Bait?

What would Paajarvi’s trade value be at this moment? His numbers and performance haven’t lived up to expectations and his "curb appeal" right now may not be that high. Could he be moved for that big center the Oilers want? Or a top-pairing defenseman? Unless Steve Tambellini is planning on using some compromising photos of an opposing GM as leverage, I’d guess not. However, and this is where my mind tends to go when discussing trading any of the Oilers’ young players, in two or three years’ time, when the Oilers are looking to add depth players for a playoff run, and need a large-bodied, defensively responsible, healthy forward who can kill penalties, provide some small measure of offense, and fit into the dressing room chemistry, might they not be looking for a player similar to Paajarvi?

I understand the need to divest themselves of some player assets in order to address areas of need, however, this only works if it does not create a weakness in another area. I would prefer to see the Oilers trade Yakupov or Hemsky in a year’s time as it would likely provide a greater return and draws upon an area of greater depth that can better absorb the loss.

Recently Paajarvi has shown some chemistry with Hartikainen and Lander in Oklahoma City. It suggests that the two Swedes have not forgotten how to play hockey, they just needed some time to find it again. Hartikainen, apparently, can play crash-bang hockey with anybody.

What Am I Getting At?

Many of us have wondered if Taylor Hall could be converted from left-wing to the middle because Mark Messier did it and we all so badly want Hall to become our next Moose. Hall is Hall, he will be what he is – a very good winger and a force on offense.

But why couldn’t Magnus Paajarvi do it? Or am I crazy for thinking this?

  • Oil Vice

    I think offensively he would be great at center.

    Defensively would be the problem .A center has to battle for the puck in his own end.MPS would be there but wouldn’t battle.

    I think you give Arcobello the chance.He has shown the skill and grit at the AHL level.

    • 24% body fat

      So replace an established nhl player with an even smaller player, is not younger, and has never played an nhl game?????

      Also maggy is known for cheating on defense. Third line center could justify his cheatng and lack of production.

    • striatic

      Arcobello has taken advantage of playing with highly skilled guys like Eberle & Hall! Has Paajarvi been given that chance, even in the AHL? Nope! Also, Arcobello is an itty bitty player who will be demolished in the NHL, MPS has proven he can play in the NHL & despite what you say he will fight for the puck!

      • DSF

        Actually, Paajarvi started in the 1LW spot in the AHL this year and did nothing with it. During the few games he had in the NHL on scoring lines last year, he also did nothing with it. He was given the chances because of draft pedigree and tools. Arcobello, on the other hand, has had nothing given to him but consistently proves that he deserves a shot, and when given one, he produces. No one else has produced as well as he has when given time with the elite players, which is why he maintains his spot.

        That being said, absolutely Paajarvi should be tried at centre. What’s there to lose at this point? If he has ten games and shows no signs of learning at last you know. Centre depth on the Oilers is terrible, and Gagner is probably the player with the most trade appeal who isn’t untouchable to get another D man. Everyone who has any sort of centre potential should be given a try right now in my opinion. Paajarvi, Pitlick, hell try Hamilton.

  • 24% body fat

    If he is replacing horcoff, fine. We have no established left wing depth so why would we try to move on unestablished to a number two center. Same thing with moving hall to center. Once hartski or maggy establish themselves as nhlers than you can try hom as third line center. Do not move gagner until you have a proven 50 plus point center or top 3 pick at center to replace him.

  • Oil Vice

    No I dont think you are crazy, and thank you for bringing this up! I have on numerous occasions have stated the same observation, going back to last year.For the same curious reasons you have stated in this blog, size, speed , and defensive ability. He’s not the most ambitious shooter in the game, and but he could be a good play maker feeding the snipers on the wings.

    The question would be ” hows your face off ability”?
    If he can adapt, no reason he can’t play as high as the second line. I think part of his sub par development, is that he’s played too much of his hockey with 3 and 4 th line pluggers. He is a good asset, and I am just afraid if he goes on the trading block, the team would not get real value back.

    • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

      If Horcoff is bought out, the Oilers can’t sign him. You cannot sign a player you buy out. Now, If we trade him for a 6th rd pick, and the acquiring team buys him out, then yes, the Oilers can sign him.

      • RexLibris

        Likely true, but this raises another interesting point. If the buyout clause goes through, the Oilers won’t be the only ones. Other likely names would be Gomez and Lecavalier.

        If Horcoff is out, how would Oilers fans feel if he were replaced on an affordable short-term contract (three years, perhaps) by one of those two as a 2nd/3rd line center?

        I’m not advocating it, but I’m inclined to think that the Oilers wouldn’t be able to stop themselves from going for Lecavalier, despite being eight years removed from his Stanley Cup victory. (over the Flames, hee hee)

  • Oil Vice

    It all sounds good to me…however with RNH and Gags being not so strong in face-offs it forces management to get at least two average face-off guys for the 3rd/4th/PK..Magnus was 20.6% and 28.6% in Face-offs in his first 2 seasons…Big, fast, defensive playmaker yes but quick on the draw no….so close and yet so far

  • yawto

    My answer is yes before I even read the article. The other question I have always had as well is if we have a big mobile boy who cheats for defense and can skate like the wind, why not defense? Didn’t he switch to forward as a teen, thought I read that somewhere. But either that or a third line checking center would work great.

    • RexLibris

      I think too much time has passed for him to move back. There is a lot of specialization that an athlete goes through to get their reaction times down to an instinctual level and the instincts amongst most forwards and defensemen are very different. Unless your name is Paul Coffey, in which case any time is go time.

  • RexLibris

    I meant to add this as a postscript, mostly because I love the line: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjluRCKL8R4

    As for defense, the center does not have to play a physical game and when coming back to the zone probably has to play the least physically committed role of any forward and play positionally sound rather than physical hockey. In this, I feel Paajarvi would be well-suited.

    With regards to the faceoffs, I know this will lead to disagreement from some, but I honestly feel that it is a skill as much as a talent. Skills can be learned. Gagner gets beat, a lot. He needs to improve, and is still young, but time is ticking and he needs a mentor. Nugent-Hopkins is a rookie. Give him time and I think with his quick stick work faceoffs won’t be that much of a problem. Recently I remember reading that during his time with the Rebels he was a dominant faceoff performer, so it comes down to moving to a new tier and needing time to adjust. Paajarvi would have size and strength and he is a smart enough player to be able to learn a new trick or two, in my opinion.

    • “The fact is that the Oilers have coveted a large-bodied center since Oct 4, 1991 when they traded Mark Messier.”

      Jason Arnott 6’5 225 LBS

      I’m glad that someone else on this site recognizes the Oilers weakness at center.

      I’m standing by my prediction that the Oilers will finish at or near the lottery position and draft a center, and that center will be Barkov or Monahan.

      As for Paajarvi, the guy doesn’t shoot, he has no aggression in his game and this is the same guy that can’t play the wing in the NHL and you think you can just slot him into the hardest position in the NHL…..Good Luck.

      You want to trade Yakupov or Hemsky??

      Hemsky will NOT get anything close to an even deal, so that would already be a deal killer, also Hemsky makes 5M a year making him next to impossible to trade at any rate.

      So let’s say the Oilers trade Yakupov, setting our rebuild back again, once Hemskys contract expires in a year and a half, leaving a massive hole at RW.

      Trading Yakupov would be career suicide for the OIlers right now, not to mention this guy will out score Hall by his 3rd year.

      I also wish people would stop the comparisons to Messier, like we’re just going to move a player over to center because Messier did it, really it
      diminishes what Messier acomplished during his career. Messier has more talent now then Paajarvi ever will.

      • RexLibris

        They coveted Arnott because of their experience with Messier. They also salivated over Eric Daze, Brad Isbister and Joe Hulbig.

        I think the organization has been hunting in the Messier mould for some time now, which is unfortunate because that kind of talent and ability isn’t something that one just goes out and gets.

        I hope the Oilers do collapse to the point that we are looking at Barkov, Lindholm or Monahan. I’m just not confident that a shortened season (if there is one) will have enough time for the roster weaknesses to be exposed to the point that this occurs. This may be a year where Calgary finally drafts ahead of Edmonton.

        This is the last year where the rebuild is likely to recoup a top-end draft pick, and it is a year deep at center. Those two factors have to be exploited and the center position needs to be addressed or this whole project risks spinning its tires in mediocrity.

        Hemsky and Yakupov are two potential assets I absolutely see the organization parting with if it means addressing either defense or a 2nd line center. I think they’d rather do it with Paajarvi and some other bodies, but if it comes to it, I think those two are players they strongly consider moving.

        With regards to comparisons to Messier, I’m only repeating what is in the Oilers zeitgeist here. I’m not comfortable with Boys on the Bus 2.0 comparisons. As I say in the last paragraph “Hall is Hall, he will be what he is”. Unfortunately, because it happened here once, there exists this unspoken hope that perhaps it can happen again.

        And I never once compared Paajarvi to Messier as a talent. I merely mention that they desperately want a large body to play the middle.

  • DieHard

    Rex, I think the buyout amnesty is for next summer prior to the 13/14 season. PRV at center has its appeal for all the reasons you mention. We have no idea if it has appeal to PRV or the Oilers. I have a feeling something else is in the works for PRV. We shall see.

  • DieHard

    I love paajarvi, and think he would make a great depth forward at any position. I think the move rests with lander. Can lander be 3line option? If lander,hartikainen, and paajarvi can play stingy defence, and pop about 10-15 goals a piece, they will be a godsend. Right now, i think mps and harti have that upside, but am afraid lander might be 4-line c on a deep offensive team. If that’s the case, mps to center should be a go. Personally i hope the oil can get barkov/monoghan/the russian who got kicked out to fight with gagner for the 2a role.
    As an aside: How about Paajarvi back to defence ala byfuglien?

    • ^ THIS

      For the love of god could we stop talking about guys struggling away in lower leagues as if they’re “only a break away” from the NHL. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a team good enough that players actually had to earn their way onto the roster by superior play? Sorry, but I’m almost at the point where Magnus has to be considered a bust. He didn’t establish a solid track record while with the big team and he’s not exactly knocking socks off in the AHL.

      Play him at C in Oklahoma for a while. If he excels, the by all means call him up. If he continues the way he’s been doing down there so far, maybe we should just admit he isn’t good enough.

      • I’m with ya…..

        And what’s with that Taylor Hall guy? Picked first overall, and he hasn’t scored 30 goals in a year, played over 55 games or even shown a glimpse of being able to lift his team out of the lottery……

        Oilers are looking to be full of draft busts…..

          • My sarcasm wasn’t noticeable?

            Calling Hall a bust is just as stupid as calling PRV one

            If goods teams made decisions on players 2-3 years into their careers, we wouldn’t see a ton of great players.

            PRV will be fine. Swedes are notorious for taking 3-5 years to adjust to NA hockey( for whatever reason).

            patience young grasshopper

          • DSF

            You mean Swedes like:

            Erik Karlsson

            Gabriel Landeskog

            Loui Eriksson

            Henrik Zetterberg

            Nik Lidstrom

            Carl Hagelin

            Daniel Alfredsson

            Ekmann-Larsson

            You seem to be basing your fallacy on the development of the Sedins rather than on any factual basis.

          • DSF

            And, without first line minutes, he’s on pace for 9 goals IN THE AHL.

            As for Forsberg, he decided to stay in the SEL after being drafted.

            In his 21 year old season (the age Paajarvi is now) he played in 47 NHL games and scored 15 goals and 50 points.

            At the age of 22, he scored 30 goals and 116 points.

            One of these is not like the other…not even close.

      • Hair bag

        What is considered a bust? Because he hasn’t put up huge numbers? I think maybe he can find a role in the bottom 6 at a reasonable price…he is still young, to early to give up on him yet…

      • Your right on the count that a player who isn’t performing shouldn’t be assumed to improve. Where you go wrong is assuming that Magnus Paajarvi is not at least 3rd line NHL material, because he definitely already is. I’m sure most teams would love to have his two-way presence in their lineup any given day, and even though two-way depth wingers don’t bring up huge trade value, they on many occasions can be the difference between winning and losing.

  • 2004Z06

    Been saying this for a few years now. Big, good defensively and a great skater with offensive potential. If MPS stays in okc all season, he should play the rest of the season out as a C

  • DSF

    Why in hell would you try and shoehorn a guy with a career shooting percentage of less than 6 percent in any kind of offensive role?

    Let’s put this in perspective…in order for Paajarvi to score a paltry 15 goals he needs 200 shots on goal if he is lucky.

    Only 63 forwards had 200 shots on goal last season and the worst of them, Blake Wheeler, scored 17 goals and 64 points playing on a very bad team.

    Paajarvi may have some value as a third line player but he will have to change his game to a very large degree to be effective.

    Worth noting…Paajarvi is -2 on a team with a goal differential of +12, all while playing mediocre competition.

    This dog won’t hunt.

  • 2004Z06

    Been saying it since his first season. Lets face facts…we have significant needs at center. I was hoping for Galchenyuk at the draft, but we took BPA. Why not try PRV out at center, he has the size and the skillset. At least we would have people saying we didn’t give him every opportunity.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Interestingly, M. Grig. has had a huge coming out party at the WJC and the various narratives that moved him from potential #1 to #12 last year seem (emphasize that hard) to be way off.

    A big center like him would be nice to have… though I still wouldn’t take him over Yak.

    this problem is going to be solved (if it is) via trade, not draft and not by switching MP or Hall to C… IMO.

      • RexLibris

        We are in agreement.

        I was pulling for Galchenyuk beginning around January. My argument being that the Oilers could afford to leave a little talent on the table in order to take the player with the most upside for their roster.

        That being said, if Yakupov is moved in a year or two, it isn’t as though he wouldn’t have some significant trade value, and could recoup assets to address any number of areas that need attention at that time.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    ^We would trade Yak, not give him away.

    MPS is a peripheral player, who has a bad shooting %. Most Swedish players do. Most 3rd liners do as well.

    He can skate, he has defensive awareness, and he can pass. He, even if he doesn’t use it, has size,(Olli Jokinen), and those three qualities can make him a very useful 3rd line winger/center.

    Not what a top 10 pick should merit but there is a player here.

  • Kevrock

    Not that I don’t think your idea is without merit, But a guy named Jason Arnott drafted in 1993 was a big bodied centerman, often called the 1A, should have won the Calder but some punk named Martin Brodeur spoiled a 33 goal 68 point season. Shane Corson ruined the rest of his tenure in Edmonton, along with a comment about “not being into it”…Usually the editing catches that kinda stuff around these parts..but grateful for the conversation point.

    • RexLibris

      I remember Arnott well.

      But he was a result of the Oilers coveting a big center.

      I never say in the article that the Oilers never found another center with size after Messier, just that they coveted them, placing a premium on size while often overlooking ability to play.

  • RexLibris

    So, once again, here’s the quote “The fact is that the Oilers have coveted a large-bodied center since Oct 4, 1991 when they traded Mark Messier.”

    Covet – yearn to possess or have.

    Possessing that which you covet does not remove the desire, it is only temporarily sated.

  • A-Mc

    Paajarvi has some good qualities that this team needs (size and speed). He seems to be floundering in the role this organization is trying to fit him into. If the key to his success is to give him a fresh look in a new role that might better fit him, then what harm can come of it?

    Give it a go and lets see what he says about it.

  • A-Mc

    Hmm, I like this crazy line of thinking. His speed alone would allow him to back-check, he draws a lot of penalties, and he does seem to want to make the pass over the goal. My concern is his lack of sand. Just because he’s a big bodied forward doesn’t mean he plays like one. Watching him live is frustrating as he almost seems to shy away from battling for the puck, and as a result loses possession quite often.

    However, his defensive ability and speed make him an intriguing option. Do you think the Oilers are looking at one of the many big centers that will go in the top ten at this year’s draft? I heard something about a v ery large Fin that would look pretty good lining up with Hartikinen or maybe between Hall and Yak.

  • DSF

    I for one like the crazy thinking! The question is what do we have to lose? It’s ture he is not a shooter, not a third line or fourth line type of player. He can distribute the puck effectively, does have good defensive abilities and rarely turns the puck over…….I like this idea at least down at the AHL level for now.

    I would have to say that NOTHING is worse than watching Belenger do his job. If skating fast and accomplishing nothing offensively is a stat…..than Belenger has this stat covered. The only thing more painful is watching Horcoff pretend that he is a top six player.

    MPS at center sounds really good right now!

  • Ok, I have been thinking this and saying it for over a year now, dammit! My fear was always that he would wind up in Detroit and put up 25/40 a year, and we would be left wondering what the hell we were thinking! He has the size, speed, defensive awareness and hockey IQ to be a decent second line center. DO IT!!!