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Pakarinen closing in on return

Iiro Pakarinen has returned to Edmonton from his conditioning stint and is closing in on his return to action

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

Ever since one unfortunate moment in a pre-season game, Iiro Pakarinen has been grinding to make his return. A knee injury, stemming from a hit and collision into the end boards versus the Los Angeles Kings, derailed his shot at a roster spot and contributing role on the Oilers roster. It's a good thing Pakarinen - true to his style of play - is a grinder.

Video: PRACTICE RAW | Iiro Pakarinen

That injury took place back on October 2, and now - more than four months later - he is closing in on his return to the NHL.

"There's no pain anymore," said Pakarinen. "It's just getting my skating conditioning back and all my rhythm and timing back, but I'm feeling pretty good."

Pakarinen returned to the ice in Edmonton on Monday, fresh off a five-game conditioning stint in the American Hockey League with the Bakersfield Condors. He registered just one assist in those games, but got his legs back.

"It took maybe one or two games," he said. "The first game, it wasn't there. Then in my second game I still had a little pain in my knee. But otherwise, my third, fourth and fifth game I was normal. I felt good and my timing and everything was better than my first couple of games. That was fun to play again, obviously. A lot of fun there."

Helping Pakarinen get up to speed was the fact that chemistry with his linemates came naturally, as his two partners were fellow Finns: Jesse Puljujarvi and Jere Sallinen.

"It was lots of fun to play with them. We talked lots of Finnish on the ice and did some good things."

While the offensive numbers didn't come to Pakarinen on his conditioning stint, his physical presence was felt. He threw a big hit on his very first shift back - announcing his return to action - and continued to provide that style of play to the Condors, all while working himself into a groove.

That's a good sign for the Oilers, as they close in on getting their player back.

"Pak was an important part of our team down the stretch last year," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "I thought he improved, he made our penalty kill better, he made our forecheck better, plays the game hard and honest, and we could use a little bit of that right now. If we can get him up and running, it will be an asset and almost like acquiring a player."

Pakarinen was still on IR, as of Monday's practice, but took line rushes with Matt Hendricks and Mark Letestu. As he closes in on his return, Pakarinen feels confident in his health and ability to help the Oilers - whenever he may get the call.

"I have my confidence in my knee back, but the first weeks when you skate it feels like you can't trust your knee at all. That was a little frustrating," he said. "I think I now have 100% confidence in it, and I can go hard now."

The Pak is back, and still grinding.

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