The current phase of the Edmonton Oilers
' rebuilding effort is focused on getting their young players as much playing time as possible to speed their adjustment period to the NHL lifestyle.
For some of the club's youngsters, that adjustment has come faster than others. But for rookie left wing Magnus Paajarvi
, he's had more than just a new league to get used to.
The dynamic power forward, taken by the Oilers with the 10th pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, is also adjusting to new players and a new country, all at the same time. It's been a challenge, but one Paajarvi is meeting head on.
"The biggest thing that sticks out with Maggie is work ethic," teammate Sam Gagner
told NHL.com. "He's a guy that's in the gym all the time, one of the last guys off the ice every day, one of the first guys on. He just continues to work hard and because of that he continues to improve. I think there's an adjustment period coming over from Sweden, I'm sure he's lived alone before, but living in a new country, that's pretty hard and he's handled it really well. He comes to the rink with a good attitude every day, trying to get better, so it's good."
Paajarvi knew things would be tough early in his first season in North America, but said as the season has gone on, he's felt a growing sense of comfort in his surroundings.
"The first half was tough, but I knew that," Paajarvi told NHL.com. "I had a lot of help from Ralph (Krueger, assistant coach) and Tom (Renney, coach), and the veterans, too. I just kept working hard and the second half has been way better."
The numbers bear out Paajarvi's belief. After totaling just 6 goals and 19 points in his first 47 games, he has 4 goals and 7 points in his last 18 games, and is starting to see increased playing time. He's averaging 14:40 of ice time per game, but in the last four games, he's played 17 minutes twice and never less than 15.
He played 16:56 in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers
, after which Renney said, "He was certainly recognizable for his speed and pro-active approach, there is no question about that. He skated well and attacked well."
"Obviously you want to play as much as possible," Paajarvi said. "You deserve your ice time. It's been just increasing as the season went on. I think I'm doing the right things now and I'm just going to keep working.
"I think Tom is very, very fair in (ice time). If you play good, you get to play. It's just up to you if you want to play."
Added Renney: "There was a point in time there where for five or six weeks he struggled with the assimilation into the whole culture of the National Hockey League and an NHL city and a North American city. He's done an excellent job of just staying with it."
Besides skating on one of the Oilers' top lines, Paajarvi has started seeing more time on the point on the power play. It's just another part of the plan in Edmonton as far as seeing which pieces best fit the puzzle.
"He has work to do at that position, but we'll work with him on it," Renney said. "He's got all kinds of confidence bringing the puck up the ice, which is Part 1 in making that happen, so we like that in his game. He's confident at the top on the blue line on the power play, no question about that. We just have to help him open the viewfinder a bit with respect to where the puck can go quickly. The net is choice No. 1, but he's getting there. I like the potential for him as a power-play player on the back end. Certainly we know what he'll ultimately be able to do as a forward, but I don't mind the look of him on the back end.
"The mandate is one that provides me that luxury of being able to play everybody and making sure those young players see the National Hockey League through good minutes, not a handful of minutes every night. They have to see this, they have to assimilate it and figure it out on their own as much as they do with their coach. And so that bottom line is that we continue to provide them opportunities and Magnus is an example of that."
Paajarvi, who generally has used his vast array of puck skills, skating ability and his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame to work along the wall on the man-advantage, said he's enjoying the different look from the top.
"I feel really comfortable," he said. "I've been playing there the last couple games, feel pretty good, see the ice a lot better. I like to do the breakouts, too. It's been working out so far. I thought I would be more uncomfortable, but it's been the other way around."
His comfort level is growing in all phases of his game.
"I think he's using his size and strength to his advantage both offensively and defensively," Renney said. "He seems to understand now to get the line on loose pucks and get to them first. He understands the ability to take people off the puck, and the need to do that. By and large he's got himself on the right side of people defensively. He protects the puck well, goes to the net with it, and those things will just get better and better over time."
Paajarvi made his name as a dynamic power forward dominating for Sweden at three World Junior Championships while also playing with Timra of the Swedish Elite League. He hasn't played to that level yet, but feels he can get there.
"I haven't got to my top yet, I think," Paajarvi said. "I think I can be better, for sure. That's why I keep working. I know its going to come if I keep working."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK