At the beginning of the month, the Edmonton Oilers dropped a three-year contract on Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, which I'm told is Swedish for "hope-please let's not be in the draft lottery next season". Pääjärvi-Svensson, or as he's known by people with better things to do than type "Pääjärvi-Svensson" all afternoon "MPS" or "Päjjan", was the tenth overall pick in a draft that has already given the world stars like John Tavares and Matt Duchene. He's got good size and dynamite speed. He's scoring in bunches in the Swedish first division, made quite a good tre kroner World Championships team, and is the anthropomorphic personification of "upside"? What's not to love?
Oh, don't worry. I'll always find something.
This is my third crack at bursting the bubble of a highly-touted young Oiler, following up my earlier efforts on Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark. I've only done two so far because pessimism is in rather wide supply among Oiler fans these days and trying to shatter our future in the same way Steve Tambellini has shattered our present made me want to sling an extension cord around a water pipe and stick my neck in. But it's the offseason and that's always a time of hope even when that hope isn't really justified. Pääjärvi-Svensson's entry-level contract was consummated a year before he had to come to North America and reminds us that there is always something new, young, exciting, and hopeful on the horizon that will hopefully be more Ales Hemsky than Michel Riesen.
I'm not saying that Pääjärvi-Svensson is going to be dreadful in North America. Far from it. But one sees the rave reviews, one notices that he was number two in our Top 25 Under 25 last winter, one hears the glowing terms of reverence, and I'm sorry but I'm not sure there's enough fire to generate all that smoke. With condolences to my Swedish readers, I must run the third part of a pessimistic look at the Edmonton Oilers' prospects with the Swedish golden boy, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson.
Unlike fellow Swede Linus Omark, there are no gigantic red lights with Pääjärvi-Svensson. He's the right size and certainly has all the physical abilities. He's developing as a player, going from 17 points in the SEL during his draft year to 29 last season. He gets praise from his coaches and already has senior appearances for the Swedish national team under his belt, an impressive achievement in spite of his relative ineffectiveness during the World Championships. This is what I mean when I say that he'll probably be a player, if not a fantastic one. The arrows are pointing up, at least.
And what I mean when I say I'm pessimistic is that he's not going to be as good a player as some people seem to think or hope. At least, he's not going to be one for the Oilers. This problem isn't particularly Pääjärvi-Svensson's fault, but it's hard to see what the Oilers were thinking giving him a contract right now at all. Pääjärvi-Svensson is nineteen and has another year of eligibility before he'd have to be signed. As devotees of the Tyler Dellow oeuvre could tell you, signing a player to his entry-level contract before you have to is essentially frittering away a cheap year of that player's physical prime.
I'm not as dead-set against signing teenagers as some. There are cases - Sam Gagner, for instance - where a player has nothing to prove in junior or Europe and playing with teenagers again would simply be retarding his habits and would provide a development situation with inferior coaching and against inferior competition. But Pääjärvi-Svensson is playing in maybe the second-best league in Europe against grown men. He is effective but hardly dominant at the SEL level and another year would have done him nothing but good while ensuring the Oilers would get better value in his career. You can hardly blame Pääjärvi-Svensson for acting in his own best interests, but the Oilers have put themselves behind the eight-ball from the off.
For all his flash, his razzle, and his dazzle, Pääjärvi-Svensson has a few question marks in terms of outscoring ability. During his time in Timrå, the Red Eagles have been erratic, with a handful of players getting it done and too many others getting pinned in their own end. Pääjärvi-Svensson has too often been on the wrong side of that equation. In his draft year, Pääjärvi-Svensson was tenth in team scoring. But whereas most of the team leaders were in the +5 to +10 range, Pääjärvi-Svensson was a mediocre -6. Last season, Timrå snuck into the playoffs with Pääjärvi-Svensson third in scoring and a highly credible +14, but the question is which Pääjärvi-Svensson is the real one. He had the advantage of playing with veterans Daniel Corso and Martin Sonnenberg, and was the third-best of the trio but was still perfectly legitimate. How much of it was his QUALTEAM, to put it in those terms?
His offense isn't good enough for NHL stardom on its own. In his 19-year-old season, Henrik Sedin had 47 points with Modo and Daniel Sedin had 45. Nicklas Backstrom had 40 points in 45 games, and that's the approximate level you expect offense-first SEL players to reach the year after they're drafted. Pääjärvi-Svensson comes up short; his most favourable close comparison is with Dallas's Loui Eriksson, quite a good offensive player who was in the Pääjärvi-Svensson scoring range in Sweden. But Eriksson is the exception, rather than the rule. His offense is good, but not elite. His defense is not good. That is not a combination that will lead to the pillars of the game.
Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson may well become a useful NHL player. But he's not likely to be a star, and we shouldn't put pressure on the kid or get our own hopes up by expecting he will.