2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 26 RW Iiro Pakarinen
If Iiro Pakarinen is going to have an NHL career of any real length, it’s probably going to be because he can fill multiple roles.
It seems an obvious truth that there isn’t much separation between a good AHL journeyman and the typical career NHL fourth-liner. A lot of times it comes down to style, as the typical coach wants specific things from his fourth unit and someone like Matt Hendricks is better at delivering those things than someone like Linus Omark. Coaching comes into it, too; I sometimes wonder how Anton Lander’s career would have ended up if he’d played more than half a season under Todd Nelson. Add in team needs, injury, luck, and it isn’t hard to understand why two players with similar talent levels can have radically different career paths.
That’s why versatility is so important. Someone who can kill penalties, play a physical game, chip in a bit of offence and do it all while bringing a professional off-ice attitude has a decent chance of sticking because he can fill any role the coach gives him.
There was a comment of Todd McLellan’s last season which I think sums up Pakarinen’s value to both his coach and his team. Via Postmedia’s Jim Matheson:
I couldn’t tell you what line Pak belonged to in Tampa. I dressed seven defencemen and I wish I hadn’t done it this time around. I’d rather have had 12 forwards and set lines. We were all over the map trying to find players and trying to motivate guys, but Pak wasn’t one of them. I put him right wing, left wing, power play, penalty kill. He was very effective.
Pakarinen’s ability to play in both offensive and defensive roles (including the penalty kill) serves him well. His size and physical dimension are more than welcome, too, particularly given that most NHL coaches still appear to believe in a fourth line that can play an energy game.
McLellan didn’t have a lot of opportunity to use Pakarinen in 2016-17. The winger hurt his knee in the preseason and stayed on injured reserve until February. After a two week conditioning stint in the AHL, he was recalled to the Oilers, playing just 14 regular season games and appearing in a single playoff contest. He finished with four point s and a bunch of hits in sharply limited minutes.
That makes it hard to get a real read on Pakarinen’s performance; not only did he not play much, but when he did play it was at a point in the year where he was trying to ramp up to NHL speed.
It also means that Pakarinen needs to prove, again, that he’s a full-time NHL player. He pushed his way on to the Oilers’ roster in 2015-16, but after a year on the shelf and with players like Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev and perhaps pending free agent Tyler Pitlick competing for his spot on the roster there just aren’t any guarantees. Having said that, the coach is pretty clearly in his corner and the team gave him another one-way deal, so he’s going to get at least some benefit of the doubt.
Bottom line: 2016-17 was mostly a write-off for Pakarinen thanks to injury, but the coach and the team value him enough that he’s going to get another chance to prove he belongs.