On the cusp of their sixth straight playoff birth, the St. Louis Blues have benefited from recent strides of one unexpected contributor.
Magnus Paajarvi contributed a pair of goals in Thursday’s victory over the Vancouver Canucks. His first goal of the night came off a rebound from Ryan Miller’s right pad, while the second went in following a Patrik Berglund pass from behind the net.
These tallies added to six points he has totaled over his last eight games. That is the team’s second-best during this stretch behind Vladimir Tarasenko. It’s a testament to improvement from Paajarvi, especially considering he was placed on waivers last October.
The 25 year-old cleared waivers without any consideration from another team, resulting in an assignment to AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves. He recorded 18 points in 26 games with the Wolves before receiving another opportunity with the injury-riddled Blues in early February.
Initially, it was unclear what the Blues exact intentions were through offering Paajarvi a second chance to make an impact at the professional level. The call-up could have been viewed as a short-term desperation move to address losing streaks at first, as the seventh-year forward is expected to become a restricted free agent in the offseason.
However, the Swedish forward has performed above expectations in comparison to his impact before and after the demotion.
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In 114 games Paajarvi played in parts of four seasons with the Blues before waivers, he compiled only 23 points along with a -17 plus/minus rating. His inconsistencies compelled the Blues to address forward depth in the offseason and bring back David Perron, who was originally dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in July 2013 when the team acquired Paajarvi.
Since his NHL return in February, the former 10th overall draft pick has improved his game averages in points (0.3) and shots on goal (0.45). He is gaining nearly 30 more seconds of ice time. His career output makes it hard to tell if he will be able to keep this pace up, but the Blues are 16-6-1 with him in the lineup this year.
Among the roots of improvement likely starts with new head coach Mike Yeo and his confidence to start Paajarvi in 20 straight games dating back to February. Paajarvi’s skill set likely fits better under Yeo’s coaching style that encourages speed and skating prowess, whereas the team often found success playing a more physical and defensive regime under Hitchcock.
Paajarvi has also developed a sense of familiarity with center Ivan Barbashev. The duo played on the Chicago Wolves top line for more than two months in the minors. Now they represent an integral part of St. Louis’s third line with primarily Nail Yakupov or Zach Sanford as the right-winger.
Second chances are not easy to come by in sports. But Magnus Paajarvi is currently riding his hottest surge in his recent opportunities with St. Louis, and the Blues could continue to benefit from his adjustments well into April and possibly longer in the push for playoffs.