As much as we read and discuss prospects, you never really know about them until they arrive in a league with all of the measuring sticks. When these kids play an entire NHL season then we’re able to see their style, their speed, their grit and their instincts on display. And of course the math we know allows us to compare them to past rookies and perhaps project them into the future.
Even then, one season isn’t always enough to really know a player. Magnus Pääjärvi has all kinds of possibilities but there’s a wide range of player-type he could become.
Pääjärvi spent 20% of his EV ice-time with Sam Gagner and Linus Omark; 8.21% with Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle; 7:12 with Gagner and Ryan Jones. He did not get the push enjoyed by the other two rookies, but it’s also true that he didn’t force the issue with his offensive play.
- 5×5 points per 60: 1.36 (8th among regular forwards)
- 5×4 points per 60: 3.45 (6th among regular forwards)
- Qual Comp: 9th toughest among regular forwards
- Qual Team: 12th best teammates among regular forwards
- Corsi Rel: 3.2 (7th best among regular forwards)
- Zone Start: 51.6% (5th easiest among regular forwards)
- Zone Finish: 52.4% (4th best among regular forwards)
- Shots on goal/percentage: 180/8.3% (8th among F’s>100 shots)
- Boxcars: 80gp, 15-19-34
- Plus Minus: -13 on a team that was -52.
- What do these numbers tell us? Unlike Hall and Eberle, Pääjärvi did not enjoy a feature role with the Oilers at the start of the season. When he finally moved up the depth chart, it had more to do with injury than his own performance. You never know until you see a player and break out the math, but he isn’t tracking as a clear top 6F option. Caveat: We need to remember he’s a teenager.
- How is he in the other disciplines? Without the puck, he looks miles and miles better. His CorsiRel is solid for where he played and the men he played against and he showed terrific chem with Omark when they were together. We can’t say “sky’s the limit” but if he ends up being Bengt Ake Gustafsson no one should complain.
- How could these numbers be better? Hmmm. It’s a pretty good rookie year aside from the offense; I don’t recall him getting as many chances as the other two rookies. The argument goes “put him with better players and he’ll perform” but this sort of proves the point that he’s likely a complementary player. How could these numbers be better? More scoring chances and more goals.
- Do you like him? Like him a lot. He’s got size, Pääjärvi has to be the fastest Oiler in at least a decade (when did Marchant fly away?) and he’s skilled. PLUS the young man has a strong defensive conscience, possibly too strong. Speed can be used on offense and defense, and added to his size and defensive mindset the young man qualifies as having a wide range of skills. Love that player type.
- What the hell does that mean? Well, he abandoned the scoring zone early and often–at times when the Oilers still had a good chance of retaining the puck (or at least entering a scrum). I haven’t seen that kind of dedication to defense from a forward since Oates and Peca and those are older player skills. And those guys are centers! The last winger to play that way might have been Bill Lesuk.
- That’s good. Not really. It kind of speaks to instinct and previous coaching, and the Oilers are going to need to work on it. Anyway, if you have the puck in the offensive zone, Pääjärvi should either be fighting for the puck, in pursuit of the puck, going to the net or perhaps cheating a little if he’s the high man coming back. But if he’s abandoned the zone with the blue then that’s really early.
- Anything else? He doesn’t use his size much at all. He’s a big puppy out there. Pääjärvi avoids traffic because that’s the way he’s been coached imo, make sure you’re available for an outlet pass or ready to haul ass. I don’t think he’s chicken (this entire Don Cherry “soft Euro” crap has to end in my lifetime. Anders Hedberg, Borje Salming and that generation put it all to bed almost 40 years ago and we’re left with quacks like Cherry being allowed in front of microphones) and expect he’ll improve in this area as time rolls along. How does Detroit get their guys to stand in front of the net and block out the sun?
- What kind of role will he be able to fill as a mature player? There are two or three possibilities. I can see him moving to center (again? yes again) because he has those instincts that allow him to see the big picture (he was always back at center ice, and on this team that was showing excellent instinct!) and he clearly understands marking his man. I can also see him filling a role as a quality 2-way winger on a mature shut down line, and of course he should eventually be an excellent option for the point on the PP. He’s an excellent passer and makes good decisions.
- What won’t he be? I don’t think he’s going to be the same calibre offensive player as Hall and Eberle. No sin in that, but it’s a distinction we can probably make right now. Pääjärvi’s shooting percentage was 7.5 last year in the SEL and improved slightly this season in the NHL.
- Who does he remind you of? After seeing him for a year, I’d say it’s Gustafsson. That’s a really good player btw. Do you remember reading about the old timey Habs? They had a LW named Gilles Tremblay and legend has it that Toe Blake took him aside after his rookie season and talked to him about his game. The legendary coach lauded Tremblay’s defensive game, but told him he’d need to score more goals. “Take care of the checking and I’ll show you how to score enough to stay in the league” said coach Blake. I suspect the coach talked to him about spending more time in the scoring zones. Or maybe he could just watch all of Detroit’s wingers.