By Allan Muir
The deal that saw the Oilers acquire Mike Brown from Toronto this morning isn’t particularly interesting in and of itself…well, other than the fact that Dave Nonis fleeced Steve Tambellini out of a conditional fourth-round pick for a player who would have been available on waivers the minute Matt Frattin was ready to return for the Leafs.
That’s not a knock on Brown. He won’t do anything to address Edmonton’s glaring need for five-on-five scoring or solidify their blueline, but he proved himself to be a useful fourth liner who can ramp up the energy when called upon. He’ll find a way to help.
But here’s where ears are perking up. Brown’s arrival means someone has to go in Edmonton. Odds are it’ll be third-year forward Magnus Paajarvi. And that’s a decision that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Paajarvi’s one of just two players on the team who is eligible for demotion without waivers, so sending him down to Oklahoma City is a bloodless solution to a crowded roster. But it also starts the clock ticking on his time with the Oilers. He can only play eight more games in the NHL before having to clear waivers ahead of a future demotion. So before Paajarvi’s next recall, Tambellini has to decide whether to commit to the 10th overall pick in 2009 or use him as a bargaining chip to shore up a weak back end.
It seems like an easy decision. There’s no room for Paajarvi in Edmonton, and that was the case long before Brown arrived. The 6′-2″, 204 winger plays a skill game that demands skill minutes for him to be effective, but the Oilers have their top-six forwards locked in: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Jones, with Nail Yakupov in the wings.
Paajarvi’s had chances to assert himself among them. He’s played on both the first and second lines over the past two weeks and even scored a goal against Minnesota in his last game, but his overall effort hasn’t forced coach Ralph Krueger to hand him top-six time on a consistent basis.
And Paajarvi doesn’t play the sort of game — at least not yet — that would make him valuable on the third line. He’s big, but not physical, and that’s a quality you need on an Edmonton team that doesn’t control the puck as often as the opposition does. He doesn’t shoot enough and when he does — his latest goal aside — he settles too often for an easier play on the perimeter rather than paying a price down low. That 2.3 percent shooting percentage from last season says it all.
None of this makes him a bad player, just a young one with a lot to learn. And that’s the real problem.
The Oilers can afford to be patient with developing talent at the top end, but only if there’s veteran stability in the depth roles. That’s not what Paajarvi brings…and that’s what makes him a bad fit for this team.
Paajarvi oozes potential with his size, age (he’ll be 22 next month) and that top-10 pedigree. There’ll be buyers lined up if Tambellini takes him to market.
Oilers fans just have to hope that the GM does a better job of protecting this asset than he did that fourth-round pick.
UPDATE: The Oilers placed defenseman Mark Fistric on IR, keeping Paajarvi as part of the winger surplus in Edmonton…for now.