Iiro Pakarinen & Winning an NHL Job

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Good enough simply isn’t good enough for a young prospect trying to earn a spot in the NHL. The rules are a little different for high picks, who have enough cachet to survive simply surviving, but for the majority of players trying to force their way into an NHL job it’s necessary to steal it from someone else and that typically requires more than passable play.

We’re still in early days, but Iiro Pakarinen looks like a player who might be able to deliver that.

First Two Games

Two games into his NHL career, Pakarinen has played a little under 14 minutes of total ice time. He’s been credited with three hits, which is actually a little on the low side; I recorded five in my notes against Boston alone and I wasn’t particularly tracking them. He’s fired the puck on net six times in that span. He also scored his first career goal.

After Friday’s game Pakarinen talked about how excited he was to score his first goal, how he was a little nervous in his first game but felt better against the Sabres, but he also mentioned that even when the Oilers were trailing he was extremely confident that Edmonton would get the win. Asked why, he offered a little insight into what points he prioritizes in a hockey game.

“We got a lot of pucks [on net and] our forecheck going on out there,” Pakarinen said. “I think that’s the thing: When you’ve got a lot of pucks to the net and a few hits and the forecheck going, that’s the thing when you’ve got your game going on.”

Are those clichés? Absolutely. But they’ve also been the foundations of Pakarinen’s game in the early going in Edmonton. He puts pucks on net. He gets in on the forecheck. He lands hits. It’s simple, but those are qualities the Oilers don’t always bring.

If he keeps doing those things, it’s going to be difficult to send him back to the minors when Taylor Hall gets back.

The Direct Competition

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The Oilers have a pretty clearly defined top-12 forward group. Will Acton sat for ages in between games because there was nobody obvious to scratch; the top six wingers are all proven NHL veterans or Nail Yakupov, there aren’t any other credible options at centre and the “fourth” line of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu has played so brilliantly it is tough to split it up.

The injury to Hall created an opening, and Dallas Eakins has shown his preferred method of handling it. Pakarinen is playing 6:45 per game despite being dressed on a scoring line; the coaching staff has done that mostly by double-shifting Yakupov in places. It’s a reasonable strategy, and it’s probably what we’ll see from the coach as long as there’s a big drop-off between the top five scoring line wingers and the sixth.

If the Oilers decide to keep Luke Gazdic and play him at times, it’s easy to imagine the coach using him the same way, spotting him for five minutes per night on a scoring line. That frees up the fourth line to keep doing their important defensive zone work, while at the same time limiting how much impact he has on the team’s offensive ability.

The question is whether it’s better to go with Gazdic or with someone like Pakarinen. Pakarinen hasn’t been a drain on his line when he’s on the ice; he has a clue in the defensive zone and his willingness to shoot the puck is extremely welcome. There’s a massive gap between the two players in that department: while it only took Pakarinen 13 minutes to fire his first six shots it took Gazdic 13 games last season.

At some point in the very near future Edmonton is going to need to decide whether it prefers to have a heavyweight on the roster or a guy like Pakarinen who just might be able to positively impact the game in other areas.

And that’s why Pakarinen can’t just play well in this stint if he’s going to win a job; he has to be very good to convinced Edmonton to give up their enforcer security blanket. If he’s just passable, it becomes much easier to keep Gazdic for fear that somewhere along the line he’ll be needed, particularly since Pakarinen doesn’t need to clear waivers to go back to the minors. 

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Andresito

    1) The guy has played 15 minutes in the NHL and you have his jersey in the rafters. Settle down! Let him play for 10-15 games before even commenting on how he is as a player.

    2) They were playing buffalo and barely squeeked out a win. Does that not concern anyone? We are the laughing stock of the league right now and you are all celebrating that we beat one of the few teams as bad as us.

    3) for all the stats nerds that raved about hiring Dellow…how is that going? Had he impacted us and made us a playoff team? Are you guys so happy with your Corsi that you don’t see how bad we are? Or do you need advanced stats to show you that we STILL SUCK and your ADVANCED STATS ARE USELESS!

    • O.C.

      You were on a roll until the great contradiction of logic between point three to your great note about tempering expectations within point one. Sample size is everything in evaluation.

      It won’t be until early next year that the current roster numbers become reliable. What none of us know is what the past material has provided. It is likely no fluke that Acton or Gazdic ( as example ) have not been gifted ice as they were last year.

      And… Do any of us know if the staff are 100% buying in on the adv stats process? It is a tool, an indicator, nothing more.

  • Spydyr

    Shouldn’t be hard, sit Purcell when Hall gets back. Keep it that way untill Pakareinin has a bad game. Then send him to the minors to continue to get playing time in North America. On the road I would like him to sit with or next to Hendricks.

      • Spydyr

        After seeing this newest Finn play like 13 minutes of NHL hockey my opinion of him as a player has not been formed, that being said I agree with you about sending him down after only I bad game, not he way to go about it. Keep the Finn for a bit and see how he does. My opinion however has been formed on this Jesse Joenessu, however that is spelled, I don’t like him as a player at all, if anybody goes to the minors it should be him. Then if the Finn turns out he can’t do it send him down as well.

  • Randaman

    Call ups usually do great for a couple of games and bring enthusiasm to the team . Once they settle in however , most go right back to AHL as that initial drive fades (unsustainable and temporary ), and they get exposed pretty fast after that .

  • Randaman

    I would like to add the Joensue is really playing well. I think Gordon & Hendricks get credit where credit is due but Jesse is a huge part of their success as a line.

    Just sayin…

  • Randaman

    I would like to add the Joensue is really playing well. I think Gordon & Hendricks get credit where credit is due but Jesse is a huge part of their success as a line.

    Just sayin…

    Sorry, double post. Late night last night

  • Randaman

    Draisaitl for Soderberg. Yak and Khaira for Hanzal. Schultz+ for Green.

    Poaching future UFAs.

    Fire Eakins, hire Bylsma and make Nelson associate. Ramsay and Rocky are up to Bylsma. Replace Chabot with Khabibulin or any other former NHL goalie who was actually successful for some period in their career.

  • Zarny

    Gagner had his faced caved in with zero repercussions to Kassian from Gazdic or anyone else. So exactly what value has icing an enforcer like Gazdic provided?

    If you are going to give someone spot duty on a “scoring” line a player like Pakarinen seems more logical than an enforcer who basically doesn’t or can’t enforce.