Editor's Note: Matt.N is a regular around these parts, so regular in fact, he's now looking for solutions for the tough minutes-playing, faceoff-winning, penalty-killing center desperately needed by the Oilers since 2007. His FanPost is a novel idea and should generate some interesting conversation.
Ever since Marty Sakic, Kyle Brodziak and Jarret Stoll got shipped out of town the Oilers have been running out a one armed Shawn Horcoff and a group of under sized, under aged and over matched players to man the middle. This has worked out a lot like the Dieppe Raid in 1942. It was a complete failure on all objectives; however it has provided us with some valuable information for future use and taught us what not to do.
What every cheezie stained blogger, anti-Horcoff commenter and semi-literate fan has been calling for is a legitimate first line center. It has gotten to the point that the Oilogosphere has an annual desperate call for such luminaries as Dominic Moore, Jeff Halpern or Manny Malhotra to fill the gap. Fine players, but it would be a stretch of Van Meegeren proportions to include them in the top 30 centers in the league
So what exactly is it that we are looking for in a center? Typical answers would include size, puck distribution, face-off ability, defensive responsibility and, most importantly for the Oilers roster, the ability to play against and outscore the best centers in the NHL.
I would suggest that Magnus Paajarvi has the tools to become the player we have been looking for. Let’s hit these points one by one to see how he does.
Much of a centers ice time is spent below the goal line, in the corners or in front of the net. Upper body strength and mass is valuable to win battles in these tough areas.
NHL.com and his Wiki page list Pääjärvi at 6’3". IHDB lists him at 6’1". Let’s split the difference and call him 6’2" and 200lbs. He is still only 19 so his top end will most likely be around 215 -220. This would be big enough to label him as above average to large amongst NHL forwards.
Over his entire career (229 games including international play) he has scored 52 goals and tallied 75 assists for a 1.44 assist to goal ratio. This would land him in the range with players who are perceived to be all around offensively gifted players like Eric Staal (1.41) and Jason Spezza (1.48) rather than pure set up men like Joe Thornton (3.45) or shoot first snipers like Steve Stamkos (0.86).
Face Off ability:
The value of winning face-offs as it relates to winning games is, in my opinion, overstated. However, the bar is set pretty low for face off proficiency amongst the Edmonton Oiler centers (see Cogliano, Andrew). This is definitely a question that would have to be answered.
Magnus was a defenseman until he was 12, at which point he switched to forward. His draft scouting reports list some defensive issues. EliteProspects.com commented on his defensive ability:
"Defensively, he has throughout his career as a junior been considered as a sloppy player with not enough willingness to back check and to the dirty work. This is something Pääjärvi Svensson has worked very hard on and improved significantly. Today, he is in fact a quite capable two-way player that also battles for the puck and takes care of his responsibilities. However, there are still some defensive aspects that could use improvement."
Based on most accounts of his play at the rookie camps, pre-season and for the first couple of games, he has been surprisingly good at this aspect of the game. He is mentioned quite often as being the first player back checking on his line and to my eyes has been extremely diligent in his own end of the ice.
Capable of Playing against the best centers in the NHL:
Pääjärvi cannot fill this role right now, but may be able to in the future. It is too much to ask of any rookie. To best prepare Pajjan for this role the Oilers organization would need to put him in the best possible situation to succeed.
So how do the Oilers and Pääjärvi get from here to there?
- a 10 game (or more) stint down with the Sooners to apprentice at playing center.
- Some serious work with Mike "Suitcase" Sillinger after practice to work on his face off abilities
- Once promoted to the bigs, a slow "Horcoffian" increase in Quality of Competition from the 4th line up.
If you couple up the skill set possessed by Pajjan with the organizational depth at LW (Penner, Hall and Jones) and the lack of a true first line center, I think this is an idea that should be explored by the Oilers.