EDMONTON, AB - Iiro Pakarinen came into the off-season with a positive outlook.
He was coming off his first American Hockey League season with the Oilers affiliate, after signing a deal in June of 2014. He made a good impression down there, earning the trust of his coaching staff right from the opening month of the season.
|Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers |
He’d play just 39 AHL games, for the Oklahoma City Barons, but finish sixth on the team in goal scoring with 17. The five players above him played an average of 22.8 more games than Pakarinen. He earned himself a call-up with the Oilers, and played his first 17 career NHL games, scoring his first NHL goal on November 6, 2014 against the Buffalo Sabres.
All signs were pointing towards more positives and more development heading into 2015-16. However, a shoulder injury shortened his time in camp and with a new coaching staff and a new general manager, it was a setback.
“That’s the reason why I was sent down, but it’s good to be back here. Now it’s time to show what I can do,” said Pakarinen.
It’s hard to earn the trust of the new bosses when you’re not on the ice. So he returned to the AHL to play with the Bakersfield Condors. With a goal and two assists in four games this season, plus recommendations from the Condors staff, Pakarinen is back in Edmonton with a second chance.
“That was such bad luck that I had a little injury at camp and didn’t have any games, any pre-season games. It’s good that now I have (an opportunity) to show (what I can do),” he said.
Pakarinen was recalled on Thursday, but Head Coach Todd McLellan wanted to see his new forward practice before playing him in a game. Pakarinen took morning skate on Friday but did not suit up.
“I think that was maybe better for me,” said Pakarinen. “I was here the night before at like 2:30 in the morning. I think it was better for me, not playing yesterday. I could get a little better sleep before I play.”
With a clean slate, Pakarinen set out to impress McLellan in his first real practice of the season on Saturday.
“I liked his practice today,” said McLellan. “It’s kind of the first time I’ve really experienced Iiro at practice. I thought he looked strong, he competed hard in practice, showing us he wants to play. There’s a good chance he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow night.”
As the Oilers host Los Angeles on Sunday, some of Pakarinen’s qualities make him a viable option to put into the lineup.
|Photo by Jeff Nash | Edmontonoilers.com |
“I’ve heard those words from our management team and our scouts and our coaches down there that he has a hard, heavier game,” said McLellan. “He’s in the right position, so the team we’re going to play tomorrow does that consistently for 60 minutes when they’re playing well. We’re going to need that from him.”
Pakarinen has shown in the AHL his ability to play a multifaceted game. He can play in a top-six scoring role or provide some grit and grind lower down the lineup. The challenge is to provide that versatility in the NHL.
“I’m kind of an all-around player,” said Pakarinen. “I think I can play all four lines. If I need to play on the first or second line I can be there or if I’m on the fourth line I can play a little bit more simple and harder and grind a little bit more. That’s my good thing in my game.”
The Oilers are hoping he’s up to the challenge to be a plug-and-play type player.
“I hope so,” said McLellan. “That will be the trust between coach and player that will have to evolve as time goes on. Unfortunately for him, we don’t have any history together, but we’ll create it quickly.”
The 24-year-old Finland native is no wide-eyed rookie either. He’s familiar with the NHL and familiar with the Oilers.
“I played 17 games last year,” he said. “There were a lot of good games and then I had some bad games. I have to find the level I can play every night. If you have a bad game, just play a simple game. I feel I’m ready to play.”