Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Blues will look at pair of Swedes with something to prove

Berglund to play on one-year deal searching for improved development;
Paajarvi comes into new situation, environment after trade from Oilers

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues will go into the new season with three Swedes counted on in different ways. Two of them go in with a chip on their shoulders.

One is in search of improved consistency on the ice who has a good understanding of the American culture, while the other is still raw, shy by nature coming into a new environment looking to impress his new teammates.

Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, both raised in the same culture separated by 150 kilometers and roughly a two-hour drive apart from their respective hometowns of Vasteras and Norrkoping, Sweden, are anxious to make a connection on the ice in hopes of balancing a Blues forward unit that has been bolstered with improved depth.

Both are first-round picks (Berglund 25th in 2006 and Paajarvi 10th in 2009.)

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (right) chose a one-year contract in 2013-14 so he can
prove to himself and the Blues he deserves a long-term deal in the future.
Berglund, 25, is coming off a season in which he found a nice scoring touch with 17 goals in 48 games, which was second only to Chris Stewart's team-leading 18. The 6-foot-3, 217-pound center is coming into the 2013-14 season so determined to prove his worth to the organization and his teammates that he initiated the idea of playing on a one-year contract this season that will pay Berglund $3.25 million.

"I think I just wasn't ready to sign for more years," said Berglund, who has 188 points in 358 career games. "I wanted to show them and show myself and the team that I've developed and got better every year. That's my main goal.

"I thought that was a good solution to get one year because I wanted to prove (to) myself. I didn't want to just sign something (long-term) and just go from there. I wanted to make sure I'm happy with it, that I can kind of challenge myself and I think I will do that this year. We've got a good team and a lot of good players, a good organization. We all have high expectations on the season and it's going to be fun."

Berglund spent most of the summer in Sweden focusing on conditioning himself better, doing a lot of cross-fit workouts and lifting weights to become stronger in both his upper- and lower-bodies, collaborating those things with his conditioning.

He's coming off a 25-point season and a playoff that produced a goal and an assist in six games against Los Angeles.

"In the playoffs except one game there when we were on the ice for a lot of goals (Game 4), I think I played some really, really good hockey," Berglund said. "I think I adjusted well and played some really good hockey in the playoffs. At least I ended the season playing really good hockey, but obviously, I want to be that two-way center, both in the d-zone and dangerous when you're going on offense attacking the net.

"I have a big body now and I think I can get in there and to the net more. That's where I score my goals these days. I want to keep doing that and obviously keep developing and get better. I can't really put a finger on what exactly I need to do, but it's one more year of maybe being a little more mature and hopefully that will help."

Paajarvi, 22, comes into his first season with the Blues after being traded from Edmonton to St. Louis for David Perron. He comes in with the penchant for being a strong and fast skater at 6-3, 208 with a lightning rod shot.

Paajarvi, who had nine goals and 16 points in 42 games with the Oilers last season, fell into a numbers game for an Edmonton team stocked with deep talent after a number of years with high first-round picks. He's already making his mark with some impressive informal skates leading up to camp.

"I've had two months to think about it and really (take) it in," Paajarvi said of being traded. "The more I think about it, the more I want to be here. It feels good ... so far, so good. I'm going to bring what I think I need to do and what the coaches need for me to do, so it's awesome.

"I'm coming to a winning team ... contenders. That's always exciting. I haven't made the playoffs in three years. That would have been something new for me and that's very exciting. That's where everybody wants to play, right? It's just an awesome and exciting feeling."

Coach Ken Hitchcock's idea is to pair Berglund and Paajarvi together in camp to see how well they can blend in. They were a good pair in the 2011 World Championships for Sweden when Berglund led the way with eight goals and 10 points in nine games and Paajarvi added two goals and seven points in nine games when Sweden finished second to rival Finland.

"(Paajarvi) and Berglund had great chemistry together, two big guys that hung onto the puck," Hitchcock said. "It's a month-long competition so how do you know? But all I know is the two guys held onto the puck. Nobody could get the puck away from them and they were hard guys to play against. You've got two 6-4 guys out there grabbing the puck and hanging onto it. They're hard to play against.

"To me, Magnus is just starting to understand what it takes to play as a good player in the National Hockey League. I think he's just starting to become serious about his craft and that's a good thing for us."

Both Berglund and Paajarvi are obviously on board if Hitchcock wants the combo on a line and have great respect for one other.

"He's an unbelievable skater," Berglund said of Paajarvi. "He has good vision, a good shot. He's overall a very good player, good on attacks. I think he's proven that when he was in Edmonton.

"I think it was tough to grab a spot there with all the young bucks they've had coming in at the same time. I think he's really going to come in and help this team. I'm obviously excited to get another Swede on the team."

"We played really well together, lost the final, but he really showed what a player he is," Bergund said. "Hopefully, he can come in here and feel like he can kind of start over a little bit and be pumped about it so he can really get going. I'm going to try and help him as well. It would be really exciting, but we've got to go out there and do the job as well. We'll see where it takes us."

Said Paajarvi, who has 58 points in 163 career games: "We've got to prove it. I'm not saying that it's set in stone or anything, but we played good through the World Championships. It's not a season; it's two or three weeks, I think, we played together. Maybe (don't) take too much out of that, but definitely if the chemistry's there, I would love to play with him."

At a young age living through an organization giving up on him so soon, Paajarvi has lots to prove. The knock on his game is he tends to play on the perimeter and not use his body often enough in front of the net. That's one area he's eager to show off to his new teammates and coaches that he can handle multiple workloads.

"Both Ken and Doug (Armstrong) talked to me about how I fit into their system," Paajarvi said. "... I'm a skater both ways and I want to create hard plays at the net and hopefully get a couple goals and points. I think I fit in pretty well.

(Photo by Getty Images)
The Blues hope Magnus Paajarvi (91) and fellow Swede Patrik Berglund
can mesh like the duo did for Sweden at the 2011 World Championships.

"I came into the league very, very offensive and now I (play) both ways. That's an asset that I got last year. Hopefully I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing."

The Blues took on Paajarvi because they feel like he fits systematically with what they are trying to do. They also feel like Paajarvi's best years are ahead of him and if he and Berglund can blend in well, it gives the team three solid, productive lines moving forward.

"He looks like a player that's just starting to take his career seriously," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "He's getting back from relying on just his athletic ability and now he's starting to play with an identity.

"For me, the last 20 games when he played with (Sam) Gagner (in Edmonton last year) ... what he did was, he play with Gagner against top players, and then he played with Gagner killing penalties. So they found this third-line identity for that line, and then he really started to play. His scoring chances didn't diminish. His scoring chances increased because he was getting more odd-man rushes and he started to play with an edge. That's the area we want him to carry forward. The way he played in the last 20 games is what we're going to expect from him."

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