Monday, January 27, 2014

Paajarvi finally finding his niche with Blues

Winger acquired for David Perron seeing 
confidence grow as minutes, responsibilities increase

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made out his lineup for Saturday's 4-3 shootout victory against the New York Islanders, he admitted that he may have erred in judgment.

"He didn't deserve to come out the last game, but somebody had to, and it was my decision to make the change," Hitchcock said Monday of winger Magnus Paajarvi, who was a healthy scratch. "But he's going right back in tomorrow. He deserves to play. He's played really well."

Paajarvi, 22, is still a bit of a mystery to Blues fans and even to their coaches. This is the player the Blues acquired when they shipped David Perron to Edmonton.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Magnus Paajarvi (56) has been showing glimpses in recent weeks why the
Blues acquired him from Edmonton this past summer.
Perron leads the Oilers with 22 goals and has 39 points in 51 games. Compared to Paajarvi's four goals and six points in 31 games, on paper it looks like a landslide deal for Edmonton, at least in the present time.

But the Blues know this trade was made for the long-term effect. Paajarvi is in his fourth season, and in his rookie campaign in 2009-10 as a 19-, 20-year-old player, scored 15 goals and totaled 34 points in 80 games.

Paajarvi only played in 83 combined games the past two seasons and scored 11 goals with 13 assists. The run-and-gun Oilers, who drafted Paajarvi 10th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, gave up on him.

"What we kind of thought we were getting, we didn't necessarily get," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "We found a different player. I think we're getting used to seeing how good he is off the rush. He takes the puck to the net, he makes plays, he's got great speed, he's got great timing. I think as a rush-attack player, he's a lot better than we thought. I think the other part that thought he was a third line checker, I think he's got more in his game. We're going to have to bring him along and develop it. But I really like the way he is on the rush. He really makes good plays with the puck."

The Blues still saw Paajarvi as a project and after a slower than usual start, the Swedish native has picked up his game. He's averaged nearly 13 minutes of ice time in the past three games and playing with skill guys will only increase his ice time.

"I've got way more confidence now," Paajarvi said. "I feel once I'm out there, I feel comfortable and I feel like I know what I want to do out there. When I'm doing that, I'm even a better player and confident. It's nice.

"I consider myself an offensive player. I've always been that. I realize what team I'm on and where I come from. I had a different role in Edmonton than here, that's for sure. I'm going to work my way through here hopefully. I feel better the longer things go. The guys have been great, the coaches have been great to me. Honestly, right now I feel really good."

Paajarvi has been most noticeable in recent weeks, when his ice time has increased and his role with more prominent players has also increased.

"He's using his skating much more. I think he's trusting it more," said Paajarvi's teammate and fellow Swede Patrik Berglund. "I think it was just a little uncomfortable at first. He was in and out of the lineup and after a while, he played games there and he got comfortable. It takes a while to build up that confidence. He's a very good player and I'm excited to play with him. I think we've been having good chemistry. Hopefully, we can stay together and build on it.

"I think he's just found his way to be more successful with his skating and taking it deep. He's got a good shot. He can shoot more off the rush."

Paajarvi was on the outside looking in at the start of the season and when he got a chance, he suffered an injured sternum on Oct. 26 at Nashville that forced him to the sidelines for three weeks.

"He had a great start, got hurt and had a tough time getting through the injury," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "He's back where he first started here and he's a very effective player and I think quite frankly against the Islanders, we missed him a lot. We'll get him back in tomorrow and get him playing."

Paajarvi lined up with Berglund and T.J. Oshie Monday at practice, and he's been able  to take advantage of recent injuries. He was getting minutes on the fourth line but he's better suited playing with people that can get him the puck in open space where he can utilize his speed.

"I've conversations with coaches and I've had talks with Swedes on the team, which makes you feel more comfortable talking your own language," Paajarvi said. "It makes things easier. That's huge, and for me, it's huge. Hopefully, it's all coming together now."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Magnus Paajarvi (56) tries to score on a wraparound in a recent game vs.
the Montreal Canadiens. 

Getting in and out of the lineup has been an adjustment, but Paajarvi's patience has seemed to pay off.  

"It's a good and it's a hard thing," Paajarvi said. "But it really develops you. For me, it's been really tough for me mentally the last two, three years. I've been way better mentally. That's the biggest thing. You need to handle the mental part of it. It is hard, but at the same time, it really gives you a lot if you're willing to do it.

"I'm not saying I had a bad time or anything in Edmonton, but when you lose, you lose. It doesn't matter how, and it's really hard. I can only imagine what they're going through now. I know how hard it is, and I really appreciate what we have here."

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