Iiro Pakarinen took an unconventional route to the NHL, but it certainly appears that he has arrived. The 24-year-old Finnish right wing is in his second season with the Edmonton Oilers’ organization and when his entry-level deal ends this summer it’s a very good bet that he’ll be invited back.
Pakarinen was not a draft pick of the Oilers. He was a late selection of the Florida Panthers in 2011 after being passed over in 2009 and 2010, and the Panthers thought so little of him after two years that they let him walk rather than giving him an entry-level contract. This is the same sort of decisions that Edmonton made with defenceman Erik Gustafsson, allowing him to become a free agent and ultimately sign with Chicago.
In this case, though, it was the Oilers who predatorily took advantage of their opponent’s mistake.
Oilers Finnish Scout Matti Virmanen pushed hard for Pakarinen who played for the Silver Medal winning Finns and their GM Jari Kurri at WHC
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) June 16, 2014
The early reports from the AHL were glowing, with Oklahoma City Barons head coach Todd Nelson clearly a fan of the player:
He’s probably been our most complete player and most consistent player throughout the eight games that we’ve played. I think it’s just a matter of time [before he gets an NHL shot], because he plays both ends very well, he has a great shot, he’s a big strong guy and he skates very well. He’s pretty complete for this level… He plays both [left and right wing]. It doesn’t matter if it’s left or right side he feels comfortable in both positions. The one thing about Pakarinen that the coaching staff here has been impressed with is his maturity and how he carries himself for a young guy. He’s a consummate professional; he works hard in the gym and works hard in practice. I think just the way that he carries himself is pretty impressive.
As an Oiler
Pakarinen made his NHL debut in November 2014, scoring one goal but playing less than 8:00 per game in every contest during a five-game cameo. He returned to the club in February under Nelson and spent the rest of the year in Edmonton, though that only amounted to a dozen games before his year ended early due to injury.
He was hurt during training camp this season and thus started the year in the minors, but was back after just four games and he’s been with the Oilers ever since.
He’s generally fared well.
At 6’1”, 215 pounds, Pakarinen brings the size that coaches tend to like in their bottom-six forwards. He can play either left wing or right wing, he has filled in on the penalty kill (he’s currently averaging 0:41 per game shorthanded) and he’s been physical, with his 94 hits is second only to Matt Hendricks among Edmonton forwards.
He’s also a reasonably competent scoring threat. Of the 385 NHL forwards who have played at least 200 minutes of five-on-five hockey this year, Pakarinen’s 1.06 points/hour ties him for No. 265, which is fringe third-line territory. He’s not going to win the Art Ross any time soon, but that’s a very nice place to be for a fourth-line forward.
His on-ice shot metrics are just okay; he’s had his ups and downs in a relatively small sample of minutes but he and his most common linemate, Anton Lander, have been surprisingly effective together. When those two are on the ice, the Oilers have a 50.7 percent Corsi rating and are exactly break-even in the goals department (four for, four against) despite starting more shifts in their own end of the rink than the opposition’s.
Pakarinen turns 25 in August, meaning he’s just reaching the peak of his career. He’s big, physical, reasonably skilled and fairly versatile. It looks to me like he’s won a contract extension and a role on Edmonton’s fourth line next season.