Magnus Pääjärvi came into the world on an important date in the history of manned spaceflight. He was born on April 12, 1991, the 30th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first flight, and the 10th anniversary of the first launch of the space shuttle. Maybe that explains the rockets in his skates.
Put those skates under a 6'3, 200 pound frame and you have an imposing prospect. For Magnus Pääjärvi, the sky is the limit.
It speaks to the tightness of the cluster at the top that Pääjärvi ranks no lower than fifth on any of our lists and higher than that on three of them, yet still finds himself in the #5 spot overall. Suffice to say there is not much to choose between #s 2 through 5 among the Copper & Blue's panel, with enough difference of opinion in the ordering to draw the cluster tighter together. That a prospect the calibre of Magnus Pääjärvi has dropped a spot two times running is not a sign of a young player losing his way; instead it speaks to progress of and competition within the group, and the addition of yet another blue chip player. Oilers have struck gold in the first round five years in a row.
Pääjärvi stayed back in Timrå for one more season after his draft year, where he and fellow Oiler draftee Anton Lander helped deliver the Red Eagles into the Eliteserien playoffs. Magnus then went on to star for Tre Kronor at the World Senior Championships, making the tournament All-Star team and winning a bronze medal.
By the time he arrived in Edmonton last fall the hype was considerable. It was his mixed fortune to arrive at the same time as fellow hotshot wingers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, Oilers' first-rounders from 2010 and 2008 (and still to be heard from in the C&B's Top 25 Under 25). Opportunity for primo ice time was somewhat restricted as a result, and Magnus spent much of the 2010-11 season playing in the bottom six, until eventually being fed top six minutes down the stretch after Penner was traded and Hall and Hemsky injured. Magnus himself managed the notable feat of staying healthy; he was one of just three Oilers to manage 80 GP, and among forwards trailed just Andrew Cogliano in both total and even-strength ice time. He saw a fair bit of powerplay duty as well, including quite a bit of time on the point, rare for a teenaged forward to say the least. In fact he looked so comfortable in setting up the rush and gaining the zone that some observers saw in him a potential puck-moving defenceman. Others saw Pääjärvi as a candidate to move into the middle and help solve the Oilers eternal search for a big, mobile pivot; still others saw a left-winger that should be considered for the starboard side. While I'm not sure any of these possible universes will actually happen, that so many people see such a range of potential in the Swedish phenom speaks to his raw talent.
Depending on which metrics one prefers, Pääjärvi showed intermittent improvement over the course of 2010-11. By even-strength scoring chances he had a difficult first quarter of the season before coming on strong over the last 60 games. He showed some chemistry with fellow Swedish rookie Linus Omark, especially when the two were not teamed with Sam Gagner - a trio which had more promise than performance.
By traditional plus/minus, however, he had a difficult last quarter of the season, where he posted -10 over his last 20 games, mostly in a top six role, often with linemates who were at least as overmatched as he was. Baptism by fire, for sure.
Still, by season's end, Pääjärvi had put together some fairly respectable numbers. He finished tenth among forwards in NHL rookie scoring with 15-19-34; among those same rookie forwards he was tenth in average ice time per game (minimum 25 GP) and fifth in overall ice time. The all-rounder gained a lot of valuable experience in his 19-year-old season before returning to the World Championships and earning a silver medal with Sweden.
Still, it's not as if he blew the doors off. MP finished eighth among regular Oiler forwards in both goals and points per 60 at even strength; sixth in both powerplay goals and powerplay points per 60. Not bad for a rookie, but the fact he finished behind full-fledged bottom-sixer Ryan Jones in all four categories suggests he still has a long way to go.
Going forward Pääjärvi would seem to be solidly written into the top nine along with fellow H.O.P.E. wingers/sophomores Hall, Omark and Eberle as well as veterans Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth, but may find powerplay time hard to come by in that group. With his wheels and defensive chops he holds some promise as a penalty-killer, an interesting option that Tom Renney might pursue going forward. Looking at the depth chart he seems most likely to slot into a two-way role, perhaps on a line with Shawn Horcoff or Eric Belanger. He's got a long NHL career in front of him, but with the glut of young forwards it seems probable he'll be making his mark as an all-rounder.