Friday, March 7, 2014

Paajarvi getting grip on Blues' system, winning ways

Winger, who's giving Blues fans flashes of who they acquired for David 
Perron, simply wants to play, wants to make it tough to remove from lineup

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When the time came and the Blues traded away David Perron, a fan favorite since the day he first stepped onto the ice as a member of the Blues, that moment on July 10 changed the scope of the team moving forward.

The Blues got a bit of an unknown commodity in these parts in 22-year-old Magnus Paajarvi as well as a 2014 second-round draft pick. Paajarvi wasn't an unknown in Canada, particularly Edmonton, which chose Paajarvi with the 10th pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft but got lost in the shuffle of an Oilers roster that has shaped into a group of forwards with speed and skill yet to shed the franchise's losing ways.

Paajarvi was expendable in Edmonton but coveted in St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues)
Magnus Paajarvi is only 22 and still growing as a player.
Blues are getting benefit of teaching him, watching growth.

Initially, the resounding feedback from Blues fans was, "That's all we got?" For David Perron? Who scored 84 goals for the Blues in six seasons?

And as the season wore on and Paajarvi was having a tough time adapting to a new culture filled with winning (something that's been missing in Edmonton), being in and out of the lineup (mostly out) and when he did play, the minutes were limited. When he was catching on, injury bit in late October. All the while, Perron was producing (he has a career-high 23 goals to go along with 44 points in 60 games through Thursday) at a high clip.

It may have only been one game Thursday night in Nashville, but Paajarvi, who scored his first game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory, cemented a performance that has been slowly building over time.

And the fast and skilled Swede, who played in the fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves and has been playing a fourth-line role often this season, has gained a grip on playing a Ken Hitchcock's tough, defensive-oriented, puck-possession, forechecking style of game.

Thursday arguably was Paajarvi's most compete effort to date in St. Louis.

Paajarvi, whose game-winner was his first as a Blue and sixth goal of the season, has been slow to live up to those high book-end draft picks. Coincidentally, he's got 34 points in 124 games over the past three seasons with the Blues and Oilers after a rookie season saw him total 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 80 games during the 2010-11 season.

"He's really improved," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi, who had 8 minutes 52 seconds of ice time against the Predators. "He's bought in to the way he needs to play to be a really good pro. He's really bought in. He's become a really, really good player for us now."

Paajarvi knows he's been biding time, especially with Vladimir Sobotka (fractured kneecap) out for the past five weeks. But even though Hitchcock has shuffled him in and out of the lineup that can shake a young player's confidence, Paajarvi's been the utmost pro about the entire experience with the Blues thus far and it seems to be paying off. But Paajarvi understands once Sobotka comes back -- and he's on the road to recovery -- he could be on the outs again pending injury and will have to continue to impress the coaching brass.

"One game goes well, two games go well, the confidence grows," said Paajarvi, who has six goals and 10 points in 41 games. "Everything falls into place a little bit. Everything is piece by piece and it takes time to get here, but I definitely feel more confident and comfortable out there.

"We can't really control Sobe. We don't know when he's coming. He's been such a great player for our team this year. He's having a tremendous season. He's stepped his season up and he's for sure going to be in the lineup when he comes in. It's tough for the rest of the guys, so you have to grab the chance when you have it."

And according to Hitchcock, Paajarvi has grabbed it.

"I think he's earned the right to play there," Hitchcock said. "He's done a helluva job. I think everybody's excited for him. He's such a great team guy. Just to see him improve like he has throughout this year ... this is a perfect example of a young guy really grown into a role and grown into a game. He's got great hands and now he's got that work ethic and determination to go with it."

Classic examples of Paajarvi Thursday night were he played with a very good stick, was hard on the forecheck which created a plethora of offensive zone time for the amount of minutes the fourth line played and then to top off what people in St. Louis are growing accustomed to seeing: Paajarvi blowing past an opponent that helps him get an edge to the net. The latest victim was Nashville's Mike Fisher, as Paajarvi blew past him along the right boards before snapping off a wrister past Pekka Rinne.

"Maggy's been playing great. He's been awesome. He has such speed," said teammate Ian Cole, who picked up his second career two-point game with a goal and an assist Thursday. "The goal in Phoenix recently (on March 2) and the goal (Thursday), just flying down the side. Two great shots out of him for those two goals. It's really nice to see him being rewarded for how hard he works and how well he plays where it usually goes unnoticed.
(St. Louis Blues)
Magnus Paajarvi (middle) gets past Anaheim's Corey Perry in a recent
game. Paajarvi scored the game-winner Thursday during a 2-1 victory. 

"Those underrated Swede's ... very underrated speed. You don't notice that they're skating fast until they fly by you and make you look stupid. He just skates so fluid, so effortless. It's pretty to watch, that's for sure."

It's no secret Paajarvi's game is build to be more of a top-nine forward and not that of a grinding fourth-line wing. But the professional he is, Paajarvi has grabbed whatever ice time he can get, fourth line or top-line billing. He doesn't care.

"I want to play as high as I can," Paajarvi admitted. "I realize where I am and where I came from, but I love being on this team. Whatever chance I get, I want to take. I think I've done that. ... Hopefully I can keep it going here from this game."

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