(HockeySTL)-- Magnus Paajarvi may be one of the younger players occupying a spot on the Blues’ roster, but he’s adjusting nicely to the role the Blues have asked him to conform to.
Paajarvi was acquired this past summer from the Edmonton Oilers for the home-grown David Perron. Paajarvi wasn’t asked to fill Perron’s shoes and he wasn’t pushed into a scoring role like he was in with the Oilers. But he was asked to be patient and adapt to a game that he wasn’t familiar with.
The 22-year old winger was drafted 10th overall by the Oilers in 2009. He played 80 games in the National Hockey League one season later. But while Paajarvi worked to develop his game, Edmonton struggled to win and frustration began mounting.
Over the next two seasons, Paajarvi played in just 83 games with the Oilers, spending chunks of those two years in the American Hockey League. The Oilers opted to move Paajarvi and a second round draft pick this summer to acquire Perron, a more proven goal scorer, for their roster. Paajarvi doesn’t have any hard feeling towards the Oilers, and loves his new team.
“Expectations are really high in Edmonton, too, but things aren’t clicking and unfortunately haven’t been for a couple of years,” said Paajarvi. “I know how hard it is and they are doing everything they can. It’s way more fun on the winning side, that’s for sure.”
Paajarvi returns to Edmonton on Saturday, and is expected to be in the lineup when the Blues face his former club. He says he is looking forward to seeing some friends off the ice, but is also ready to do battle when the puck drops.
“Just being in Edmonton, I’ve been there for three years and know a lot of people there,” he said. “I have one of my best friends on the team. There’s no friends during the game, that’s for sure.”
Perron is fitting in nicely with his new team as well, posting 14 goals, 27 points so far. While Perron has 12 more goals and 25 more points than Paajarvi this season, comparing statistics to determine the winner of the trade is an unfair comparison.
Perron is counted upon to be a leading producer with the Oilers, while Paajarvi is just a cog in the rather large machine that is the Blues. The Blues didn’t trade Perron expecting Paajarvi to be the same kind of producer, but rather to address other areas of their game.
“From our standpoint, David is a good player. He was a good player for us, he’s obviously a good player for the Oilers. When you have an abundance in one position and need help in another, that’s just the way that hockey is. You only have so many dollars, and so many roster spots and you have to fill them appropriately.”
As it was in Edmonton, Paajarvi is just one of many skilled players on the St. Louis Blues roster. However, it is much harder for the young winger to get consistent playing time with the Blues because of the team’s depth. As a result, Paajarvi has played in just 15 of the Blues’ 34 games this season. Injuries to key forwards in the past few weeks have opened up a spot for Paajarvi and he hasn’t disappointed.
“The part that we are happiest about with Magnus is if he stays healthy, he’s a very effective player for us,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “The way we play and the way he plays has been a real good fit for us.”
When Paajarvi has been a player for the Blues, he has played the majority of his ice time on the fourth line. The Blues’ fourth line is not lacking skill, but is not the spot Paajarvi would have envisioned himself playing in the NHL. But he is understanding of the situation.
“I’m not used to that role, but you have to adjust as a professional athlete,” he said. “I’m coming to one of the best teams in the league and if I want to play, I have to adjust accordingly.”
“(If my role is) on the fourth line, I will do that, but obviously I want to play higher and play as much as I can. It’s getting there and getting better. Hopefully it keeps going that way.”
Paajarvi has had the opportunity in recent games to play a more important role on a higher line due to the absences of David Backes and Vladimir Sobotka. Hitchcock experimented Paajarvi with Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko a few games ago and the chemistry was evident.
“I think Magnus is a really versatile guy,” said Hitchcock. “He can play anywhere we want. He fits. He can play up and down the lineup. He’s great on the forecheck, he really gets on top of people and creates turnovers. Like I said, the way we need to play, he is a great fit for us.”
The Blues’ goal when they acquired Paajarvi was to make the winger a better two-way player, not exploit his offense at the risk of hindering the winger’s progression. With the Blues, Paajarvi can develop his game at his own pace and be ready for a larger role in a few years. This year is just a stepping stone for the young forward and the Blues are looking forward to having him on the team for the future.
“It’s very similar to the potential we saw when Berglund first came here,” said Hitchcock. “We see a young guy growing into his body. He’s got great speed. He needs to get stronger and over time he’s going to do that. But I think his instincts are good and over time, with the way he plays, he is going to be a good fit for us.”
“I think this is a young player just learning the game. Before you can make a proper evaluation of Magnus, he needs a full season with us. We see real potential to get better. “