Compared to his rookie teammates Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi was a virtual unknown for Oiler fans as training camp got underway in September. Hall had played for Canada, winning a silver medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship and he had not only been part of the Windsor Spitfires back to back Memorial Cup winning teams, but he had also been awarded the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament MVP in consecutive tournaments as well. Eberle had twice played for Canada at the World Juniors, winning gold in 2009 and silver in 2010 and scoring some of the biggest goals in tournament history for the Canadians and had made several appearances in Edmonton as a member of the visiting Regina Pats when they faced off against the Oil Kings.
Fans in Edmonton were familiar with Hall and Eberle but Paajarvi was a different story. Having played in three World Juniors (winning silver twice and bronze once) and one World Championship (another bronze medal) there had been opportunities to see him play but not many, certainly not compared to the opportunities to see his fellow rookies in action. He was the unknown commodity, the player we could only hope would be as good as we'd been told.
Paajarvi lived up to the advanced billing and then some.
Through the season's first quarter Paajarvi struggled. Struggled puts a nice spin on his play actually. In his first 22 games Paajarvi recorded just two goals and four assists. The scoring chances posted yesterday by Derek show that Paajarvi got killed early in the season. Through the first two segments of the season (games 1-20) Paajarvi was out-chanced 36 to 90, good for a .286 chance percentage. Like I said struggled puts a nice spin on it.
If you want to find a bright spot in Paajarvi's play in the first quarter of the season it would be his production when the team traveled to play the Flames. In the two games the Oilers played in Calgary early in the season, Paajarvi recorded a goal and an assist each time. In the Oilers other game in Calgary later in the season, Paajarvi scored yet again. If he wants to keep putting up those kind of numbers every time the teams travels a few hours south I certainly won't complain.
Once those first 20 games were out of the way and Paajarvi seemed to figure out the NHL pretty quickly. The scoring chances turned around and the points started to come. As Derek points out, from game 21 on Paajarvi's scoring chance totals were 229 for and 232 against, or a .497 chance percentage. For the last three quarters of the season Paajarvi was nearly an even player. On a team destined to finish last that is a remarkable accomplishment for a rookie. Over a full season that chance percentage would actually be good for fifth among Oiler forwards ahead of Ales Hemsky by .003 and behind only Hall, Shawn Horcoff, Eberle, and the now departed Dustin Penner. It's hard to not be glass half full when you see three rookies leading the way like that.
With more scoring chances came more points as well. The following table provides a breakdown of Paajarvi's points in the first quarter compared to the rest of the season. I've also projected the numbers over an 82 game season to give you a better idea of just how improved Paajarvi's play was. I see hope in these numbers.
|Games 1-22||Games 23-80|
|82 Game Total||7||15||22||18||21||40|
Another positive out of Paajarvi's season was that his production didn't fall off late in the season. Having played 50 and 49 games in his previous two season with Timra IK it wouldn't have been a big surprise if the longer NHL season wore Paajarvi down. But even though he was playing more games than he ever had before and injuries had increased his icetime, Paajarvi's play didn't drop off at all. In fact in terms of scoring chances, Paajarvi played his best hockey at the very end of the season. Yet another very encouraging sign for the future of the Oilers.
The quality of competition numbers from Behind the Net show that Paajarvi wasn't taking on the opponents best on a nightly basis but he wasn't lined up against the dregs of the lineup either. And Paajarvi started his fair share of shifts in the offensive zone but he finished in the offensive zone more often than he started there. When a rookie can move the puck in the right direction like that you can't help but be excited.
This season was about winning hockey games for the Oilers it was about the future. At the start of the year we all hoped that Paajarvi would be part of that future. His play this season doesn't just give me hope that he can be part of a better future for the Oilers, it makes me think he can lead this team into that future.
Prediction: In his second season I think Paajarvi will improve slightly on his scoring rate from his final 60 games of this season. 20 goals and 25 assists doesn't seem unreasonable to me, 50 points would be a tremendous step forward for him. Ultimately I think he can be a consistent 65 point player but we're likely still a year or two away from that kind of production right now.
A big part of how successful Paajarvi's sophomore season will be is going to be tied to who the Oilers chose to play between him and fellow Swede Linus Omark. I think (or at least I hope) the Oilers will keep that duo together but these two seem to be without a centre as it stands now. Horcoff will likely start the season playing between Hall and Eberle or alongside Hemsky and whoever fills the Penner hole which will leave Sam Gagner slotting into the spot Horcoff doesn't fill. Paajarvi and Omark work well together, if the Oilers can find a centre that fits I think the results will be fun to watch.