Edmonton - Nov. 6, 2011 - One of the big mysteries of the Edmonton Oilers first twelve games, has been drastic fall off in the play of one Magnus Paajarvi. The young forward still looks like the same responsible two way player yet something seems to be missing something in his game. The drive that the youngster brought to the rink last season, has not been part of his game on a nightly basis. I am not sure what exactly brought on the change, but I do have my suspicions.
Throughout the early part of training camp, it looked as though Paajarvi and Linus Omark would be starting the season with captain Shawn Horcoff in between the two Swedes. It seemed like a no-brainer, as it would give the Oilers the potential of having three lines that could contribute up front, while allowing Horcoff the opportunity to help the two kids understand what is expected out of them, both on and off the ice. Basically, the same role the veteran played with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, during the 2010-2011 campaign. That all changed, once Sam Gagner sprained his ankle and the club looked at other options.
When Gagner was deemed unable to start the fast approaching season, the line juggling started and the results, have effected Paajarvi ever since. While the line was left intact for the Oilers opener against the Pens, by game number three the two Swedes were flanking Eric Belanger. Nothing against the faceoff specialist but he should be playing on a third or fourth line with grinders...not players with high end skill. Eberle was invisible for the first two games of the season because he was playing with Belanger and Ryan Smyth, neither of whom could get him the puck in areas for him to do damage. The coaching staff deserves full credit for recognizing this and moving Eberle off the line. On the flip side, a good chunk of the blame lies at the feet of the staff for allowing the struggles of Paajarvi to continue, when it is obvious what the issue is.
To make matters worse, once Gagner was ready to go, they decided to put him on the wing in place of Omark. I fully understand what the thought process was by not making any major changes but who's kidding who here? Did anyone in their right mind expect a line of Paajarvi - Belanger -Gagner to do much of anything? You have a centre who has shown no chemistry with any skilled players on the team, a second year player already struggling to find his game and a centre playing right wing for the first time in years. Not sure about you but that sounds like a recipe for failure. If nothing else, would it kill them to swap out Belanger with Anton Lander? They should have went this route before Omark was taken out of the lineup but decided against it.
Some have brought up the point that Belanger didn't sign a three year contract to play on the fourth line but if that's case, then he shouldn't have signed here. Where did he think he would be playing? In all honesty, playing him on the fourth line would not effect his ice time much, as he would still take a ton of faceoffs and kill penalties. If Paajarvi and Gagner are going to be playing 12 minutes a night, why can't they do it with Lander? Instead we are seeing the two struggle to the point, where they have both lost confidence in their game. I don't see how this makes any sense...be it short term or long term. Do you think it is a coincidence that all the players that have played on this line have either one, two or zero points on the season? I would say not.
Don't get me wrong, Magnus hasn't been good enough this season and he still plays a little too soft at times. That being said, playing him with a bunch of pluggers is doing nothing for his game. Lets hope the return of Ales Hemsky will bring an end to this experiment and have the young Swede playing in a situation, that suits his skill set. Be it playing on a line with Hemsky and Gagner or moving other players around, regardless, the change has to be made. With the teams early season success, it has become apparent that it's all about the two points on game day. While I feel that is a refreshing change from the mindset that has been present in recent years, it can't get in the way of the development of the core group and at the moment, it clearly is.