Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Magnus Pääjärvi: Four Autographed Cards

As is the case every other year for the Edmonton Oilers, it's time for an organizational re-haul... after replacing perennial not-winning coach Todd McLellan with Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock earlier in the season, the Oilers will (likely, hopefully) remove General Manager Peter Chiarelli from his position today.

I will still defend the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson deal (although a first-rounder should have also went the Oilers' way in that deal), but Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner for, uh, waivers is unforgivable, as was never solidifying the defense or the goaltending position.

Chiarelli inherited the draft pick that became Connor McDavid, who blossomed into the best player on the planet in just his second season; one can forgive playing into McDavid's hand by foregoing the bridge deal between the rookie salary cap and the MVP-like contract he ended up getting, but there was no reason to also do so with Leon Draisaitl. Now, these two superstars account for roughly a third of the team's overall cap, which should fit 23 people. Doing so seriously limits the supporting cast you can surround your stars with, as the Pittsburgh Penguins noticed in the near-decade between their 2009 and 2016 Stanley Cups.

And one of the people under that cap is $6M Milan Lucic, he who hath scored 15 goals in the last year and a half and is under contract until 2022-23.

The three main things the Oilers have been doing wrong in the past decade have been picking some of the wrong guys in the first round, never picking up supporting pieces in the later rounds, and/or not developing their prospects into viable NHL players.

Case in point: Karl Magnus Svensson Pääjärvi, now known simply in NHL circles as Magnus Pääjärvi.

A star player in Sweden who had already medaled twice at the World Juniors (silver in 2008 and 2009) when he was drafted tenth overall (he would add a bronze medal in 2010), he was chosen ahead of the likes of Ryan Ellis (11th), Calvin De Haan (12th), Dmitri Kulikov (14th), Nick Leddy (16th), Chris Kreider (19th), Kyle Palmieri (26th), Ryan O'Reilly (33rd), Jakob Silfverberg (39th), Robin Lehner (46th), Richard Panik (52nd), Tomas Tatar (60th), Tyson Barrie (64th), Cody Eakin (85th), David Savard (94th), Craig Smith (98th), Mattias Ekholm (102nd), Marcus Foligno (104th), Sami Vatanen (106th), Mike Hoffman (130th), Gabriel Bourque (132nd), Marcus Kruger (149th), Anders Lee (152nd), and Erik Haula (182nd).

Now, at 6'3" and 206 pounds with speed and good hands, of course he's worth taking a chance on, same as Kreider. Ahead of talented defensemen like Ellis, Kulikov, Barrie and Ekholm, I'm not sure; ahead of a blue chip goalie like Lehner, perhaps; ahead of hard-working probable point-per-game players like O'Reilly and Hoffman, again, not sure.

But what you do when you land a talent like that is nurture it. That means powerplay time, offensive zone starts, not benching him at every defensive mistake; instill a discipline, a taste for physical effort, a taste for using his body - not necessarily through hard checks (although if he wants to, sure), but at least as a means to protect the puck and carry/shield it to and in the offensive zone.

It's a process that takes years. Five to seven years on someone his size.

The Oilers gave him three years before losing patience, but they still landed a valuable asset in David Perron when they traded Pääjärvi; the St. Louis Blues, on the other hand, never trusted him enough to give him the "candy" minutes, more often than not leaving him on the ice for fewer than 12 minutes per game, then crying about his lack of offensive contribution and unfit defensive zone play.

The Blues ended up waiving him, and the Ottawa Senators pounced on him. They even re-signed him to an affordable one-year, $900K deal over the summer (the type the Oilers should be looking at right now, what with their limited cap space), with GM Pierre Dorion saying:
“We’re happy to have Magnus back in Ottawa. He showed us last season that he can play the game with speed, which fits with the style of play we want our team to exhibit. Magnus is a versatile player who will be able to provide us productive minutes in many situations.”
Speed. Following the team. Productive minutes. In many situations.

Sure, he had six goals in 35 games with the Sens last year and five in 40-some games this year, but as a left winger, he's behind Ryan Dzingel, Brady Tkachuk and Mikkel Boedker at his position, on par with Zack Smith; so the Sens are giving him minutes where they can, including shorthanded, usually with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who is shaping up to have a Sean Couturier-like career trajectory. One of his goals was a short-hander. One was on a breakaway against Jusse Saros. He even wiped out after a goal last weekend.

He's fun to watch. He'd probably be a lot more fun to watch playing alongside an even faster McDavid.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' ugly practice-like uniform from after the season-long lockout, on card #78 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Victory set:
And here he is sporting the team's classic white (now-away) uniform, on card #198 from Panini's beautiful 2013-14 Score set:
And here he is wearing Edmonton's classic blue uniform, possibly one of the ten best hockey jerseys of all time:
The card on the left is #192 from Panini's 2011-12 Score set, while the one on the right is #124 from UD's 2011-12 SP Authentic collection.

He signed them in blue sharpie in October 2018, prior to a home game against the Montréal Canadiens. These cards cement him as #91 on my Oilers Numbers Project.

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