Heading into the offseason, the St. Louis Blues greatest area of strength, from a depth standpoint, appeared to be on the wings.
The organization had a plethora of NHL talent on both sides of the wings under team control, and had other areas of weakness on the team.
Yet, that did not stop General Manager Doug Armstrong from shaking up his core group of wingers over the summer.
In what could be described as a mild surprise, on July 10th, the Blues announced that they had traded David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for left-winger Magnus Paajarvi and a 2nd-round pick.
The surprise did not revolve around who the Blues parted with. Heading into the offseason, there was a lot of talk around St. Louis of Perron being moved. The Blues needed to alleviate some cap space in order to sign all of their free agents, and Perron seemed like the most logical choice to go.
Many Blues fans appreciated the world-class potential the francophone forward flashed at times during his stint with the Blues. However, his overly-flashy style of play as well as his knack for taking inopportune penalties in the offensive zone began to wear on Blues fans this past season.
Apparently, this same frustration carried over to the Blues front office. In the end, Perron’s style of play did not mesh well with Head Coach Ken Hitchcock’s 200-foot, three zone system of play.
So the Blues shipped Perron off to Edmonton, where he will have the opportunity to flourish in a more offensively-oriented system.
Instead, the surprise was centered more on the player the Blues received in return.
At first glance, it was easy to be perplexed by the trade. After all, Magnus Paajarvi is not a household name among many NHL fans. There were more than a few Blues fans questioning the return Armstrong received for one of the Blues most offensively talented players.
However, after the initial shock of the trade wore off, and more about Paajarvi was learned, the trade began to make sense for the Blues on multiple fronts.
First, Paajarvi is a former top-10 pick. Selected 10th overall in the 2009 NHL Player Entry Draft, Paajarvi was never able to find his groove in Edmonton. The Swedish winger was oftentimes buried on Edmonton’s depth chart behind their slew of young, dynamic offensive talent.
This past season, Paajarvi averaged 14:08 minutes of ice time. He should expect that time to increase on his new team as Hitchcock likes to roll four lines on a consistent basis. In fact, outside of rookies Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, each of the Blues top-9 forwards averaged at least 15:00 minutes of ice time last season.
With more ice time, Paajarvi will have more opportunities to showcase his talent.
Second, Paajarvi fits the Blues system much better than Perron did. He is an adept two-way player who has improved at this aspect of the game since the beginning of his NHL career. Hitchcock should be able to extract even more out of Paajarvi’s two-way ability as he becomes acclimated with the Blues system.
In an interview with OilersNation.com, Hitchcock explained how he plans on using Paajarvi:
…with Magnus we feel that we got some definition on that third line which we didn’t have before, and we think that he’s going to add a lot to our group. He’ll probably get 10 to 20 goals, and as I said, he and Bergie are going to be able to play against top players.
Additionally, Paajarvi has size, measuring in at 6 feet 3 inches and weighing 208 pounds. However, word out of Edmonton is that he has had trouble using that size to his advantage thus far in his short career. However, Hitchcock has a plan to change this:
We’re going to get him to play through people. I know what you’re saying; there is a difference between playing to people and playing through people. In St. Louis we had the same challenge with three or four other forwards; Jaden Schwartz was the same was, he used to just play to people. T.J. Oshie was the same way. We were able to make those guys and get them to adjust; Vladimir Sobotka, the same thing. We were able to show them the difference, explain to them how to do it and then put mechanisms in place.
Third, Paajarvi brings certain skills that the Blues lack: world-class speed and a knack for driving to the net and scoring dirty goals. Taking a look at his highlight reel from last year, you can really get a feel for his skill set.
Finally, Paajarvi has great chemistry with fellow Swede Patrik Berglund. The two played on a line together for team Sweden at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Slovakia. In nine games, the two combined for 17 points with Berglund finishing the tournament tied for 2nd in scoring with 10 points (8 G, 2 A).
Obviously, Hitchcock envisions the two playing together on the same line in St. Louis:
We saw the chemistry he had with [Patrik] Berglund in the World Championships because I coached in those Championships. So we see him and Berglund as a pair and then whether we use [Vladimir] Tarasenko or [T.J.] Oshie, we’ll see.
However, there is an important question that must be asked about the Paajarvi trade: will it help the St. Louis Blues improve this upcoming season?
From an individual standpoint, there is little doubt that Perron will have a better season statistically than Paajarvi.
Playing with the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Jordan Eberle, Perron will be able to fully unleash his offensive ability in a top-6 role. It would not surprise many if he ends up putting up a career high in points.
Paajarvi, on the other hand, will be playing 3rd line minutes with some power play time throughout the season. It is hard to imagine him putting up a season similar to Perron statistically.
However, from a team standpoint, I believe the Blues will be better off as a result of the trade.
Additionally, Paajarvi plays a responsible two-way game, a requirement to play under Hitchcock. While Perron improved at this aspect as his career progressed in St. Louis, he still was a defensive liability at times on the ice.
What do you think? Will Paajarvi help the Blues improve this year?
Let us know in the comments section below.