It's sometimes hard to remember that Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson
is just 17.
Like John Tavares
, or Sidney Crosby
before him, Paajarvi-Svensson has been in the limelight since he became a teenager. Now, the Swedish prodigy finally is ready for his NHL coming-out party.
Paajarvi-Svensson will likely be rated No. 2 among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting in its final rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft, which will be replaced April 14. He is not far behind once-a-generation defenseman Victor Hedman
. By most accounts, only Tavares, the top-rated North American skater, and Hedman will go before Paajarvi-Svensson this June in Montreal.
Whether Paajarvi-Svensson goes at No. 3 or No. 4, there is little question he is almost as ready for the NHL as Tavares, the consensus No. 1 pick who has rewritten the Ontario Hockey League record books with the London Knights.
"He'll be ready for the NHL very soon," said NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb.
Paajarvi-Svensson had just 7 goals and 17 points in 50 regular-season games this season, but it's important to remember Paajarvi-Svensson is a teenager playing with Timra's senior team in the Swedish Elite league, a professional league believed to be on par with, if not slightly better than, the American Hockey League.
"He's flying on the ice," Stubb recently told NHL.com. "He's improved a lot. He's playing with more confidence. He's stronger than before and he is playing with the big team all season. He has been scoring goals."
At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Paajarvi-Svensson finally is growing into a frame that can handle the physicality generated by grown men, some that are twice his age.
"He is absolutely fearless on the ice," Stubb said. "He is a great skater. With his moves, he's creating scoring chances both for himself and for his teammates. He is a guy that can go straight for the net and make things happen -- just with his speed and his energy."
The Swedish right wing showed that explosiveness at the 2009 World Junior Championship, where he was among the tournament's best forwards, totaling 2 goals and 5 assists in six games in his second WJC. As a 16-year-old at the 2008 WJC, he had a goal and an assist in six games, in the process becoming the youngest player ever to suit up for Sweden at the WJC.
Throughout the 2009 tournament, he amazed teammates with his speed and skill, using his aggressiveness to put even elite defenders back on their heels.
"He's really good on his skates, a good technician with good stickhandling," Jacob Josefson
told NHL.com. Josefson is the No. 3-rated European prospect, one spot behind Paajarvi-Svensson. "I think he is one of the best players in our age group, very talented."
Skelleftea's David Rundblad
, a highly rated defenseman for the 2009 Draft, had to go against Paajarvi-Svensson a lot in practice, and also plays against him in the Elitserien.
"Magnus is a great skater, so fast," Rundblad told NHL.com. "He has good stick skills and great eyes. He's a great forward."
Now, Paajarvi-Svensson will be the focal point again, leading team Sweden in this week's U-18 World Championship, the third time he has appeared in this spring tournament.
Paajarvi-Svensson doesn't mind the attention or the compliments, but he won't indulge in the hype.
"I'm an offensive player with good skates and good technique," he told NHL.com. "I want to drive to the net. I'm offensive player with a goal sense. I want to make goals."
In a way, he wants to make goals like another young Swede that once took the NHL by storm.
"I looked at (Markus) Naslund and tried to follow him out," Paajarvi-Svensson said.
Naslund, now with the New York Rangers
, took a few seasons in the NHL to get his footing, but once he did, it was magic. Between 1998 and 2006 with the Vancouver Canucks
, Naslund had three 40-goal seasons and six times topped 30. In all, he had 259 goals in that span.
"He is absolutely fearless on the ice. He is a great skater. With his moves, he's creating scoring chances both for himself and for his teammates. He is a guy that can go straight for the net and make things happen -- just with his speed and his energy." -- Goran Stubb
What about players in their NHL prime at the moment? Does Paajarvi-Svensson see himself mirroring any of the young talent taking over the League?
"Of course I look at (Alex) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby and see what they do; but it's hard to do the same things they do," Paajarvi-Svensson said. "Of course I'm looking, but I try to develop myself."
By all accounts, that development is proceeding according to plan, even if Paajarvi-Svensson's offensive numbers are not nearly as gaudy as his Canadian contemporaries -- Tavares, Evander Kane
, and Matt Duchene
. While those players are first-line mainstays for their junior teams, playing more than 20 minutes per game and seeing copious amounts of power-play time, Paajarvi-Svensson is lucky to see 10 minutes in a game, and power-play time is rare.
Still, the Swedish star is confident he's at the right place on the developmental curve. In 35 games with Timra last season, he had a goal and 2 assists.
"I'm happy with my development this year," he said. "I made 3 points the year before this year. I think I have maybe 5-6 minutes a game a game this year. I'm happy, but I'm not. ... I feel good with my development, though.
"You don't want to play five minutes per game; you want to play 20. I want to play 20 minutes a game in Elitserien. Sometimes I get a chance to do that, but mostly I play 5-8 minutes."
He can expect more playing time with Timra next season -- if he decides to stay there. Stubb believes Paajarvi-Svensson already is NHL-ready.
"I don't have an exact plan (for the future)," Paajarvi-Svensson said. "I'm pretty open, especially after the Draft. I don't know what I am going to do, but I really like it (in North America). I like the small rinks. I'm very open for anything -- NHL, minor leagues, play in Elitserien. I'm very open."