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?

  • 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

    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.

    • 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

      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.