Magnus Paajarvi will play on the Oklahoma City Barons’ top line to start the season alongside young Edmonton Oilers’ stars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“I think this is something everyone wanted to see last year (in Edmonton),” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “The left wing is interchangeable. If teams are taking liberties on Jordan or Ryan I can throw Dane Byers in the left side. We have combinations.
“But this is a good opportunity for Magnus to play with those guys. He has speed. He creates scoring chances as it is. But playing alongside them he’s going to get more opportunities. Nothing is set in stone with our lines but he’s going to get an opportunity to play there.”
Paajarvi (pronounced pie-are-vee) has scored 42 points in 121 games with Edmonton. He spent all of the 2010-11 season in the NHL but played half of last season in Oklahoma City. This is an opportunity to prove he no longer needs additional minor league seasoning.
“I’m going to go out and play my game,” Paajarvi said. “I know everybody talks about scoring, goals and assists. Of course I want to do that. If I play with Nuge and Ebs I will get my opportunities and they will get their opportunities. It’s going to happen.
“But I’m not too focused on being the scoring leader. I want to be a leader on the team defensively, too, and on the other hand obviously be a threat offensively with the line I’m playing on.”
This essentially is Nugent-Hopkins’ first opportunity to play with Paajarvi, who played in 48 games with the Barons last season when he was an integral part of the run to the Western Conference finals, scoring 11 points in 14 playoff games.
“Obviously (Paajarvi) is such a fast player who will open things up for us,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “He’s a smart guy. Hopefully it will click.”
Eberle said: “I played with Nuge last year and Mags the year before. Mags brings an added dimension with his speed. He’s tough for defenders to keep up with. He’ll be able to push guys back and hopefully we can get some chemistry going early.”
Nelson said Paajarvi, 21, has matured some since last season.
“He seems more professional,” Nelson said. “He’s still a happy go-lucky guy. He’s always fun to be around. He has a great attitude. But he seems more business-like right now.”
Nelson stressed he won’t split up the line if it’s productive but he has other options.
“If we want more power we can put (Teemu) Hartikainen there,” Nelson said. “We have the luxury of a bunch of different combinations to see what works and what doesn’t work. But they look pretty good together right now, like there’s good chemistry. We’ll have to see if it translates into games.”
Here are the Barons’ forward lines heading into the season opener Friday night at Lake Erie. The No. 5 line probably won’t be active for the opener but might play in a Saturday matinee:
No. 2 line: Josh Green, Ryan Martindale, Tyler Pitlick
No. 3 line: Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello.
No. 4 line: Dane Byers, Chris VandeVelde, Curtis Hamilton.
No. 5 line: Cameron Abney, Tanner House, Kristians Pelss.