HITCHCOCK: “WE’LL GET PAAJARVI TO PLAY THROUGH PEOPLE”

Ken Hitchcock has been a head coach in the NHL for 15 seasons, and he’s earned a reputation of being a very demanding coach. Last year, Hitchcock told me he’s changed his coaching style a bit. He isn’t as demanding on non-game days as he was when he coached the Stars and Flyers, but on game days players still need to play the way he wants or they likely won’t play.

Hitchcock gave me some insight into David Perron, and he also shed some light on how he plans to alter Magnus Paajarvi’s game.

Perron is, and will be, a better offensive player than Paajarvi, but what was it that Hitchcock and the Blues saw in Paajarvi that they liked?

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I asked Hitchcock where Paajarvi would fit amongst the Blues’ forwards.  

We saw the chemistry he had with [Patrik] Berglund in the World Championships because I coached in those Championships. So we see him and Berglund as a pair and then whether we use [Vladimir] Tarasenko or [T.J.] Oshie, we’ll see. We feel he’s a third line player, a real defined third line player that is going to be able to kill off penalties and we’re banking on the chemistry that he and Bergman had in the World Championships continue. They’re good friends, they get along well together and we see that as a real positive for us. We don’t see him as a top-six for us right now, we see him as this defined third line guys that’s going to fit in well. 

One of the things that the trade does is that it really does open up ice time for [Jaden] Schwartz and Tarasenko. Both of these guys played great last year, we need to create space and time for them.

We know that David is a good player; Perron is going to be a really good player for Edmonton. He’s more than a scorer too, he’s a really competitive guy, and we used him a lot to kill penalties. He can play in every situation and we know he’s going to be a really good player.

But with Magnus we feel that we got some definition on that third line which we didn’t have before and we think that he’s going to add a lot to our group. He’ll probably get 10 to 20 goals and as I said he and Bergie are going to be able to play against top players. 

After watching Paajarvi for the past few seasons I felt he would be a solid third line player, rather than a top-six forward, so it makes sense listening to Hitchcock’s evaluation of him. It is interesting to note that he plans on using him against top players, although playing with Berglund will help. Paajarvi has world class speed, and the Blues desperately needed more speed in their lineup.  

The one criticism of Paajarvi has been his unwillingness to use his size to his advantage. He is still a young player, so he has time to work on that, and when Brownlee asked Hitchcock about Paajarvi’s style of play, the Blues’ coach very quickly outlined how he plans to enhance Paajarvi’s game. 

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I know what you’re saying Robin and the question is are we going to get him to play through people, and the answer is yes. We’re going to get him to play through people. I know what you’re saying; there is a difference between playing to people and playing through people. In St. Louis we had the same challenge with three or four other forwards; Jayden Schwartz was the same was, he used to just play to people. T.J. Oshie was the same way, we were able to make those guys and get them to adjust, Valdimir Sobotka, the same thing, we were able to show them the difference, explain to them how to do it and then put mechanisms in place and sometimes the bear in the woods had to come out. But we got ‘er done and they learned how to do it properly and we feel very confident that Magnus will be able to do that for us in very short order.

Hitchcock has a plan for Paajarvi, and he isn’t afraid to be hard on young players to get their attention. He won’t shy away from bringing out his "bear in the woods" persona to get their attention.

Listening to Hitchcock talk about getting players to play through people and to people was awesome. I’ve said for years the Oilers have been too soft. Sadly, many felt that comment means they have to fight more, and that isn’t the case at all.

I love a good tilt now and again, but they Oilers don’t need a heavyweight, they need to be more competitive and play harder. Hitch’s definition of playing through people rather than to them makes perfect sense, and I’ll be curious to see if Dallas Eakins tries to employ a similar mindset in Edmonton.

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Jonathan Toews is a great example of a skilled player who plays through people, not just to them. How often in the past five years have you seen the Oilers coast towards the opposition. They haven’t been dogged on the forecheck, and they don’t create enough turnovers.

It is clear Hitchcock is going to challenge Paajarvi to alter his game and play through people. I hope Eakins does the same with the Oilers.

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THE TRADE…

When Craig MacTavish acquired Perron I thought it was a great trade for the Oilers, mainly because they got the better player. Some wondered why the Blues would part with a skilled, young player. Hitchcock explained why Perron was available. 

I think that everybody knows it was obvious. We all know the financial situation in order to fit everybody under the cap and being in the position of having to sign Stewart, Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo we knew we were going to be in a squeeze. We’re going to be a cap team, like a lot of team, but we needed to make sure that we had everything in order. 

The biggest thing for me with David is that when he puts the work in ahead of the skill, he’s an impact player. He’s a defined top six guy, he’s going to have a huge impact on the game, but he’s no different than anyone else. The Oilers have had guys to learn that over time.

When you put the skill in over the work, you know what happens, you end up maybe scoring goals, but you end up a minus player. David really improved last year in putting the work in ahead of the skill, and if he does that I think that everybody in Edmonton will be thrilled by him. But he’s like a lot of other young guys, it’s hard to do that every night. Sometimes he fell off a little bit and he’s having to learn that. He’d be the first guy to tell you that he’s starting to recognize when he does and doesn’t do it. If he can reach that stage where he does it every night, he’s going to be a hard guy to play against. 

Again Hitchcock nailed it. You have to put the hard work ahead of the skill. Every hockey fan can see the Oilers have loads of skill in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner, Justin Schultz and Perron. However, if the Oilers are going to succeed this season, Eakins needs to improve the overall effort of the team.

I’ve debated for years that the Oilers don’t work hard enough on a nightly basis to win in the NHL. last year they showed they were good enough to compete, however, they didn’t learn how to find that competitive level every night. It is the main reason why they could win 6-2 one night and then get dominated in the next few games.

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The good teams not only have elite level skill, they have incredibly high work ethic. Having experience is a major plus as well, because some nights when they feel sluggish they can rely on experience and smarts to make the right plays.

I don’t want the Oilers to play the same style as the Blues, and frankly I don’t think they could, but it would be great to adopt or employ the two traits that Hitchcock outlined; play through people and put work ahead of skill consistently.

I’m not suggesting the Oilers abandon their skill, far from it, but you can’t win in the NHL on skill alone. The Oilers aren’t the only team with elite skill.

Do the Oilers have more proven skill in their top six than the Ducks, Kings, Canucks or Sharks? I didn’t think so.

If Eakins can convince the Oilers to increase their competitive drive on a nightly basis, then they will be competitive. If not, they are destined to extend their playoff drought to eight seasons.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 


  • OilClog

    Edmonton’s lowest drafted top 6 forward was Ebs at 21?

    Even if we just go on draft pedigree alone

    Hall, Yak, Nuge #1
    Gags 6?
    Hemsky 13?
    Perron 15?
    Ebs 21?

    This is the top 6 forwards cluster that is the envy of the league, the rest of the roster may be a crap shoot, but that top 6 is an absolute nightmare for any opposition. This isn’t 3 years ago anymore, this group can’t be denied, sorry to go off but to say our top 6 isn’t in the same class as the rest of our division as it stands, is false beyond false.

    • OilClog

      Not to nitpick but Eberle was taken at 22 overall and Perron was 26 overall. Get your facts straight. You’re “False beyond false” with this post good sir.

      • OilClog

        Sorry I was off on Eberle by 1 spot, my bad.

        Perron by a dozen.. So Perron is the latest selection at 26.. when we should of picked him at 15.. my bad.

        Still, Gregor is wrong on every level of this. There is nothing proven in the top 6 of any team in our division that is comparable to what the Oilers have assembled.

        Hall – Allstar
        Yak – lead team in goals
        NUGE – undeniable
        Ebs – how much more can he prove at this point?
        Perron – Proven.
        Hemsky – Proven.
        Gags – Proven.

        What am I missing? this is a topic about the proven performances of our divisions top 6. Our top 6 is proven!

    • Jason Gregor

      @Ducey.

      You two seemed to have missed the word Proven.

      Oilers skill hasn’t proven much, that is a fact. You can be in love with their potential, that is fair, because they project to become stars.

      But Kings, Sharks and Canucks top guys have won many games, put up big points, and they have solid two-way games.

      You can look at best-case scenario regarding the Oiler kids, and they look to be very good in the future, but they have yet to do it consistently as a group.

      Hence, unproven.

      • OilClog

        Incorrect..

        San Jose.. Proven? proven at what early eliminations? Thorton and Marleau are pass their exp dates, Couture is really their only bright spot.

        Vancouver.. Do we really need to discuss their proven history?

        Anahiem.. Last year was a blip, they were nowhere near as good as their record suggested, goes hand in hand with their early exit.

        LA.. they’re proven. I’ll give that, but I’d still take our top 6 any day of the week.

        Taylor Hall.. NHL 2nd team all star!
        RNH.. Robbed of a calder!
        YAK.. Robbed of a calder!
        Ebs.. Breaking 70pts a couple seasons ago wasn’t proven?
        Perron.. Proven.
        Hemsky.. Proven.

        What are you trying to suggest to us the readers.. I understand our team has sucked horribly for the last decade, but to suggest our top 6 isn’t in the same class as our opposition is ridiculous. They’re proven!

        • J

          YAK.. Robbed of Calder?

          Do you want add Dubby robbed of Vezina, Kreuger robbed of Jack Adams, RNH robbed of Selke and Justin Schultz robbed of Norris?

          I understand this is an Oilers fan site, but you’re taking being a homer to the next level.

          • Clyde Frog

            Yeah, Yak didn’t lead rookies in goals and tied for the lead in points.

            Who ever thought to put him in the same conversation for the Calder is silly.

            Just like RNH putting up 52 points in 62 games should never have been considered as he was greatly outperformed by Landeskog’s 52 points in 82 games.

          • 2004Z06

            RNH, Yak, Eb, Hall, Sch, Gag, Per, and Klef have to many stanleys to win to care about some dumbass east conference writers award thingy.

            Here’s to them all Shutting it U.T.B.S.O.T.C. in 2016. #oilerswinin2016

          • J

            My point is that saying Yak was ROBBED of the Calder is very narrow sighted and a complete homer statement. He wasn’t even a finalist and was not the best all-around rookie in the NHL.

            Hall was robbed of the 2nd Team All-Star team LW spot. I’m fine with the opinion of RNH being robbed, but Yak was definitely not robbed of the Calder.

          • GVBlackhawk

            The guy who won the Calder was -15. Yakupov was -4. Even though I dislike the stat, there is no way you can argue that Huberdeau was better all around than Yakupov.

            And Yakupov did win the rookie scoring race, which is most often the benchmark used for picking the Calder winner.

            Not like it really matters — Yakupov is by far the best player of all the Calder nominees and he’s an Oiler.

      • OilClog

        Reading this just bugs me so much.

        Hall – Allstar.. That is recent proof.
        Ebs – 76pts last full season – proven
        Nuge – Playing with one arm was still holding his own. Let alone everything else.. Proven
        Yak – lead team in goals, going to be on Russia’s olymipic team. Proven he’s arrived.
        Perron – Proven everywhere
        Gags – Proven last season for sure.
        Hemsky – Do we really need to go into depth about his proof

        The Oilers have been terrible, but we’ve had many bright spots, to say our top 6 isn’t proven, is ridiculous in my opinion. It’s Edmonton’s most proven area!

      • Vaclav

        Jason,

        I assume you’re not referring to the Sedins as having “solid two-way games”. With 63-80% offensive zone starts under Vigneault I’m not sure these two even know what their own end of the rink looks like. And they certainly never got a sniff of the PK in Vancouver.

      • Czar

        Sedins have proven regular season success means nothing in the playoffs. Yes they’ve been to the playoffs but all they’ve proven is that they don’t have the balls to win in the playoffs.

      • Ducey

        If your point was that some of the Oilers players have to “prove” themselves as NHL players, I’d have to agree. But so what? Hardly earth shattering insight there.

        The issue is not who is “proven”, the issue is who will be better in the next few years.

  • OilClog

    “Do the Oilers have more proven skill in their top six than the Ducks, Kings, Canucks or Sharks? I didn’t think so.”

    Ducks.. Getzlaf, Perry.. Then a giant drop down, Selanne is Selanne but he’s also what 74 now?

    Canucks.. Sedin Twins, Kesler, Burrows.. Then?

    Sharks.. Couture, Thorton, Marleau.. Then what..Burns? Torres? Kennedy?

    Kings.. Kopitar, Brown, Richards, Carter, Willams..

    Oilers.. Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Yak, Gags, Perron, Hemsky..

    If we’re talking just about the top 6 forwards.. I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare as long as we’re talking about the Top 6, Edmonton is now in the Elite class, no way in denying that.

    • 2004Z06

      The comment was referring to “proven skill”.

      The Oilers skilled players have proven nothing as of yet. Make the playoffs, win a few games and then maybe they can be called proven.

      Now if the comment was potential skill, well thats a different discussion entirely.

  • OilClog

    @JasonGregor

    How exactly are the Oilers top 6 “unproven”

    “Proof” to me would be evidence of the point you are trying to make. Both Hall and Eberle have finished top 15 in the NHL in scoring, in the last 2 seasons. RNH should have won the Calder, and Yakupov was in the conversation. You dont get Calder nominations if you’re a nobody, and you’re not producing. Perron and Gagner are easily steady, if not high scoring 2nd line players.

    Inexperienced? sure. Unproven? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

    “well, they haven’t won!” So Raymond Bourque before his trade to Colorado was “unproven”, Dave Andreychuk, Rod Brind’Amour. Winning is a byproduct of a good team, not being a “proven” player. Is Bouwmeester proven?

    “they haven’t put up points like the other guys”. If I score 8 goals a game, in 3 straight games, and you get 6, in a 30 game season, guess what? I am a better skilled hockey player, period. Full stop.

    LA has one guy (Kopitar) higher than .65 PPG career in their top 6, Van 2 (Sedins’), SJ has 2 (Marleau, Thornton), Anaheim has 3 (Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne)

    Oilers have Hall 0.84, Eberle, 0.8, RNH, 0.75, and Yakupov at the cut off 0.65.

    Assuming correctly, that the first 2-3 seasons on the average NHL career are not as high scoring as seasons 5-8, the Oilers top 6 is already better than their competition, and as you mentioned, still on their way up. SJ,Vancouver,Anaheim are either cresting, or already starting to decline.

    • J

      It’s called backchecking. Quote PPG all you want but it means nothing when the skilled primadonnas allow more goals than they score. It’s time the coaching staff, media and fans start asking the players why they don’t put in an EFFORT to play the full 200 feet of rink. Hitchcock will do it to Paajarvi and I can only hope that Eakins will do it to Gagner, Eberle and Hemsky (yeah I’m looking hard at those 3 in particular).

    • Jason Gregor

      If you want to debate have accurate stats. Jeff Carter averages more than .65 PPG, but don’t let the facts get in a way of a rant. I didn’t bother looking up more players, but Carter was the first one I checked.

      Jim Carey won a Calder, not lose it, did it guarantee his success?

      The Oilers top six was all here last year, what did it get them? 24th. I guess that means they are great.

      Until they learn to play in every zone, they aren’t as proven as the Kings, Canucks and Ducks best players.

      The Sharks and Canucks are aging, I never said they weren’t, but the Oilers aren’t as proven as them. If they learn to play in every zone they should be very good, but they haven’t thus far.

      Love the Oilers all you want, but all they have proven is they have elite skill some nights, but haven’t been able to do is consistently as a group.

      • Crispy

        You can’t blame the 24th place finish on the top 6 forwards. Don’t you think it might have a bit more to do with our awful defence last year, or having 3-4 line players who were “at best a non-factor”? (Quoting Mac T)

        I think your definition of proven skill is a bit ambiguous. I think we have one of the most skilled top 6 in the league right now, not just potentially skilled.