Oilers’ Paajarvi OKC-bound
Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency
|Magnus Paajarvi says he feels good about his demotion to the Oklahoma City Barons, saying it will give him a chance to develop as a player. (Codie McLachlan, QMI Agency)
Magnus Paajarvi didn’t quote Petr Klima’s famous line about needing “an awfully long stick to score from the press box,” but he’s been up there enough to realize it’s a million miles from scoring position.
For a blue-chip prospect who spent his whole life in the middle of the action, it’s the worst seat in the house.
So when Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told Paajarvi he’s going from a spectator in the NHL to a top-six forward in the minors, he had one foot in the cab before the conversation was even over.
“I feel excited and anxious to go down there and play, play a lot,” said the Swedish sophomore. “It’s important that I play. I’m still so young, being in the press box or playing on the fourth line, like I’ve been doing lately, is not developing.
“Especially not for me; I want to be on the top lines. I think it’s really important for me to play and right now there’s not many spots open so I think it’s good for me that I go down — I really feel it’s going to benefit me. To be honest I’m not too sad about it.”
That’s the kind of maturity the Oilers knew they were getting when the selected him 10th overall in 2009. This isn’t Linus Omark, a week into his demotion, making veiled threats about going back to Sweden if he’s left in the AHL too long. This is a player willing to do whatever it takes to get better.
“He was impressive today,” Tambellini said of their exit meeting. “I feel reassured that he’s going with the right frame of mind of what a pro really is. At 20 years old, that’s impressive.”
They all know this is for the best — players play, and if he’s not going to play up here, then Oklahoma is where he needs to be.
“For him to be in the press box at age 20, or playing only on the fourth line, limited minutes, I don’t think it’s right for him or right for the team,” said Tambellini. “He just needs to get back, feel the puck and experience again what it’s like to play 25 minutes and be exhausted from the game, not from the post-game workout.”
He had a strong rookie season, 15 goals and 19 assists in 80 games last year, but while Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle managed to escape the sophomore jinx, Paajarvi couldn’t make it three-for-three.
He was a healthy scratch six times this season and didn’t get much done when he did play — just three assists in 25 games.
“His work ethic off the ice is impeccable,” said Tambellini. “He came to camp as the second most fit person in the entire organization.”
But with Ryan Smyth filling a spot on left wing and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins turning Sam Gagner into a winger, the depth chart got more competitive and Paajarvi lost the battles.
“You have to be honest with the fact that, yes, there’s more depth, but it’s also up to the player to be able to find a way to grab your ice time, to grab your spot, and right now it’s not there for him,” said Tambellini.
There’s now timetable on how long he’ll be down in Oklahoma. The only promise anyone’s making is that he’ll be back.
“I’ll go down there to develop and I feel great about it,” he said, adding he’ll return a better player because of this. “I want to play the power play, I want to play 15-20 minutes, that’s where I’m at my best and that’s where I want to be. When I do that, I’m a big part of the team. I know I can be that player up here eventually.”