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PRINCIPE: Role Playing

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner celebrate after No. 91 netted the game-winner last week in Columbus (Getty Images).

Comfort zone.

We all have one or want one. A place either in your mind or your heart or your work where you feel comfortable -- where you feel like everything is going at your pace and not at a speed where you can't keep up.

When you feel confident with what you are doing because you've done it so often that it brings a sense of calmness. A comfort zone is a nice place to be but you can't always be there. Sometimes you get taken out of it which offers a challenge. It might leave you a little uncertain but not afraid to meet the request head on.

I hope the first paragraph, in a definitive way, gave you a lead in the direction of this week's topic which is Magnus Paajarvi. What a week it was for the winger. In seven days he tallied two game-winning goals to take over the team lead in that category. Those are the kind of goals expected of Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and Hemsky to name a few.

They are certainly welcome but not expected of Paajarvi. Or are they? You see, the name is the same but the game isn't anymore -- or, at least, it's multi-faceted instead of more one-dimsensional.

When you use the 10th overall pick, as Edmonton did in the 2009 draft, to select Paajarvi the word that comes to mind is offence. I'm not interested in whether he can block shots, backcheck, kill penalties or play defensively. I know he may have to do some of the above, but my primary concern is how many goals will he score and how many points will he put up. In his first season, the Swede certainly did his part: 15 goals and 34 points made for a nice beginning in Edmonton.

However, things started to change for him and the team.

First off, Magnus lost a little of his touch around the net. Less goals, less confidence, less playing time and then something I didn't think would happen, a trip to the minors. He played almost as many games (34) in the AHL as he did (41) in the NHL last season. Paajarvi was having his own issues and at the same time Edmonton was stockpiling talent on the wing. Either just before or just after Magnus arrived on the scene, the Oilers started piling up picks on players who played wing. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and they already had Ales Hemsky.

Can you say crowded? That's what it was on the wing with all of the above ahead of Paajarvi in the pecking order.

With that much natural ability all at one position, Edmonton asked Magnus to reinvent himself. Remember all those things I mentioned in Paragraph 3? (Backcheck, blocking shots, killing penalties and playing defensively?) That's what they were asking a high-end, highly-drafted player to put on his to-do list. This also wasn't some has been who was washed up and to stay in the League had to change the way he played. This was a player barely out of his teens and the Oilers were suggesting he change his ways for the good of Magnus' career and the future of the Oilers.

It's starting to work for both sides.

It was Paajarvi on the ice, killing a penalty, in Columbus who scored the shorthanded game-winner. It was also Paajarvi, on late in a game in a defensive role, who scored the game-winning goal Saturday against Colorado. In his rookie season, he likely wouldn't have been in on the ice in either situation.

He's an upbeat kid who has met the challenge with a smile and the right attitude to make it happen. Pouting doesn't equal playing. Magnus is proving you can teach a new dog some new tricks as Paajarvi is playing his role to perfection.

Gene Prinicipe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.

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