ST. LOUIS — Left wing Magnus Paajarvi finally got on the ice for the St. Louis Blues after Maxim Lapierre was hit with a five-game suspension and Brenden Morrow got hurt. To stay there, he’ll have to take advantage of a very small window while Lapierre is out.
Which means the next three games will be crucial for Paajarvi.
After being a healthy scratch for the first five games of the season, Paajarvi played last week against Chicago and Winnipeg, taking one shot in 18 minutes of ice time and, more important, catching coach Ken Hitchcock’s eye.
“Quite frankly, Paajarvi has really grabbed this thing,” Hitchcock said. “All the things that we worked on with Magnus during training camp and the exhibition games, he’s really grabbed.
“He came advertised as one player, but we think he has other instincts offensively that really help us. He’s great on the forecheck. His speed off the rush is really effective.”
One would expect Paajarvi to have skills. After all, the Edmonton Oilers selected him with the 10th overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. But after scoring 34 points in 80 games in the 2010-11 season, he has split the last two seasons between Edmonton and the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League.
The Blues sent a former first-rounder of their own, David Perron, to Edmonton for Paajarvi in July. They liked the 22-year-old Swede’s speed and, even more, his size. At 6 feet 3, 208 pounds, he gives the Blues some of the heft they clearly lacked in two successive playoff exits against the Los Angeles Kings, whose forwards enjoyed a definite size advantage.
“We think Magnus is just entering the guts of his career right now,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said at the time of the trade. “We just think he brings an element to our team that we don’t have, a winger with that size and that speed.”
And now is the time to put that size and speed to good use.
“The key here is that Paajarvi has to compete,” a Western Conference scout told me. “The Blues’ next two games are against Vancouver and Nashville — two teams that play big-body games. Paajarvi should be used to this by now, having played for Edmonton against both Western Conference teams.
“So far, he has not been as involved, even at his size. He’s got to thump. Crash. To make plays and use his skills. Magnus must compete … and compete hard. He’s got to make every shift mean something.”
“I must prove I want it,” said Paajarvi, who was placed on a line with center Derek Roy and right wing Vladimir Tarasenko to give the Blues some scoring and forechecking. That’s what Hitchcock saw in Paajarvi in Edmonton, particularly at the end of last season.
“For me, the last 20 games when he played with (Oilers center Sam) Gagner,” Hitchcock said. “What he did was, he played with Gagner against top players and he also played with Gagner killing penalties. 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.
“The way he played in the last 20 games is what we’re going to expect from him.”
Hitchcock also will expect Paajarvi to compete with a passion, giving it everything he’s got to avoid being among the three healthy scratches from the team’s 23-man roster each game.
“We’re looking for chemistry from the 23, not from the 20-plus-3,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t think anyone can assume they’ll have a spot on the roster. Internal competition is important.”
Paajarvi said he wants to compete, to contribute to a team that clearly has its sights set on a Stanley Cup.
“You can feel it. They know what it takes to win,” Paajarvi said. “Every day there is something about this team that makes me glad I’m in St. Louis.”
If he wants to stay on the ice, though, he’ll need to step it up. Morrow, 34, is expected back Friday against Vancouver after giving his neck time to heal from a hit he absorbed against San Jose on Oct. 15. More to the point, Lapierre, 28, will be back from suspension after a home game against Winnipeg next Tuesday. Hitchcock has a soft spot in his lineup for veterans.
Safe to say, Paajarvi had better make something happen in the next three games.
You can email Larry Wigge at firstname.lastname@example.org.