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Tencer's Blog: Not a Demotion

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Magnus Paajarvi (photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC)

There's really no way around it: this season has been a major disappointment for Magnus Paajarvi. After going pointless through the month of October, the 10th overall draft choice from 2009 has been a healthy scratch half a dozen times in the last six weeks. In the past, we've seen players start the season slow because they didn't put in the required work in the off-seaon. With Paajarvi, this is far from the case, thus adding another layer to the disappointment. As I've mentioned here before, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told me during training camp that Paajarvi was the most fit of the returning players, and that the team was incredibly impressed with his training habits. In other words, he put the requisite work in to prepare for his sophomore NHL season.

In his rookie campaign, Magnus posted 15 goals and 34 points. It's worth noting that 11 of those 15 goals came after January 1st, making this the second straight year that the Swede has struggled out of the gate. The coaching staff would like Paajarvi to be a more intimidating player. They don't mean the banging and crashing type of intimidation, they mean the overwhelming speed type of intimidation. For the speed to be intimidating, he's got to skate to the right areas. Opposing defencemen need to hear his footsteps when they're chasing a puck, and they need to know that he's a constant threat to cut towards the front of the net when he's in possession. In simple terms, the belief is that he's playing a game that's too timid.

It has also been argued, with compelling evidence, that Paajarvi's struggles are also related to the ice time and opportunity he has received. After playing 18:40 in the season opener versus Pittsburgh, Paajarvi has seen more than 15 minutes of ice time in a game just 3 more times. Routinely, he has been used on the team's 3rd or 4th lines and only sparingly has he seen action on the powerplay or penalty kill. Where young players like Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Hall are thriving and seeing much of the coveted "gravy time" from the coaching staff, Paajarvi is seemingly the lost man.

In speaking to Magnus, I can tell you first hand that he's owning his struggles. I've mentioned before how impressive he is from a maturity standpoint and how supportive he is of Tom Renney's approach to handing out ice time only where it is deserved. I'd imagine that deep down there must be a tremendous amount of frustration with what is happening right now, but on the surface the only thing that shows is a steadfast conviction to change his circumstances. Steve Tambellini noted this when speaking to a group of media in San Jose following the announcement of Paajarvi's...assignment.

And that brings me to the point of writing this today: the wording. Maybe it seems like a silly thing to get hung up on, but it bothers me when people discuss this as a "demotion". For those of you that are regular listeners to my "Overtime Openline" show with co-host Rob Brown, we've been discussing the merits of this move for close to two months. From the beginning Rob and I were both very much in favour of a "confidence mission" to the AHL for Paajarvi, neither of us viewing this remotely as demotion. The Edmonton Oilers were thrilled in 2009 when Paajarvi was still available at 10th overall. Their scouting staff, led by Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor, couldn't make it to the podium in Montreal fast enough to draft the big Swede. This is the same Stu MacGregor who, very deservedly, has been lauded for his work at the helm of the Oilers draft operation. So, let's go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Only 7 players from the 2009 draft have played more NHL games than Paajarvi and only 7 have more points. The point? It's early. Are you ready to write off Brayden Schenn? Ryan Ellis? Nazem Kadri? Of course not, because the path to the NHL is distinctly different for each player. A young man, still just 20 years old, who hadn't played a single game for a North American team at any level as of a year and a half ago, has struggled this season. So what? The big man needs a bit of confidence in his game, a little more developmental seasoning, and some patience. If you'd like me to list all of the excellent NHL players who have spent some time honing their craft in the AHL, I'd be glad to. But we'll be here a while.

For now, he's going to head to the best team in the AHL, the Oklahoma City Barons. Under head coach Todd Nelson, Paajarvi is expected to play a ton of minutes. He'll be on the powerplay and, I'd imagine, on the penalty kill. He's not going to go down there and struggle to find ice time, trust me. This situation is being put together by the powers that be to make sure that Paajarvi is given an excellent chance to get back on top of his game.

Paajarvi is 20. If he was 30, we could call it a demotion. In this circumstance, however, it's a can't lose attempt at trying to get some jump into his game. The team knows what they have in Paajarvi, Paajarvi knows what he has within himself, and I think the fans know it, too. Magnus Paajarvi will be better off for this and, when he rights the ship (hopefully sooner than later), everyone will quickly forget the stint he had once upon a time in the AHL.

You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED.


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