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THE TEAM TODAY: Tough Assignment

Oilers assign Magnus Paajarvi to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons Friday

Friday, 16.12.2011 / 7:30 PM / The Team Today
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
  FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16

TOUGH ASSIGNMENT

San Jose, CA - It was bound to happen sooner or later. Without a goal in 25 games and a mere three assists in the helper column, Magnus Paajarvi was assigned to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons this morning.

"I thought about it a little bit," said the 20-year-old, who wasn't surprised or blindsided with the news. "It is what it is. I want to go down there, develop and play in the important situations, which would be good.

"I'm not too sad about it."

Don't mistake sadness with anger or excitement. The 10th overall selection in 2009 had a solid rookie season in 2010-11, potting 15 goals and 34 points in 80 games. His wide-eyed rookie campaign was a success, which could have been attributed to the Swede's hungry attitude; something, he hopes, will bring him back up to the NHL in short order.

"For sure," he said, citing his newest North American challenge with excitement. "I'm still young and I need to develop. Sure, it sucks because I want to be here and be a big part of the Oilers, but right now there's a lot of competition and I'm not playing up there.

"I want to come back and show them that I can be there; I know I can be there, so I think it's a good thing that I'm going down and getting an opportunity to play big minutes again."

No. 91 spent most of last season playing in scoring role and, while his -13 rating was a concern to some, he was given a similar chance when training camp began three months ago. A slow start didn't help, and suddenly the smooth-skater was relegated to the fourth line; and, even worse, the press box as his production continued to be minimal.

"I think it's both," said Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini, noting that players such as Ryan Smyth and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' strong seasons have pushed some talent aside. "I think you have to be honest, there's more depth, but it's also up to the player to grab his ice-time and to grab his spot.

"Right now it's not there for him."

But it could and likely will be in due time. While there isn't a set timetable for Paajarvi's return to the big league, Tambellini did stress the importance letting him develop and adapt at his own pace.

"He was impressive [when I spoke to him]," Tambellini explained. "He said, 'I'm excited about this. I'm looking forward to playing. I know I need to play.' I feel reassured that he's going with the right frame of mind with what a pro really is. At 20 years old, that's impressive.

"You expect emotion for a young player at that time and it speaks to Magnus' maturity as a person and a player. He has some perspective in that he knows he needs to play, and it's not right for him to be up in the press box at this age."

Tambellini also hinted that the Oilers were considering making this move a while back, but needed to see how Paajarvi's progression was coming along; but, given the opponents in a tough mid-month stretch, the move became necessary.

"I think it gets to a point where you watch players in practice and you see how hard they're working," he said. "You can see how the lineups are going shape up and I knew he wasn't going to be in these two games (Phoenix and San Jose).

"I don't want to do that (keep him in the press box) at this point in his career, because he's going to be a big part of us going forward here.

"His assets are incredible. His speed, drive to the net, holding on to the puck and making plays, playing all special teams; I want him to experience that again."

When Paajarvi addressed the media bright and early at the team's hotel today, he was smiling, still that happy-go-lucky kid living the dream playing pro hockey. Admittedly, he needs to improve and will do so with some development time in Oklahoma City, but it's a positive step no doubt.

"With a lot of ice-time and special teams time, you get so much from that," he said. "You have better timing, and you don't think too much; you just go out and play, and I think that's important. That's when I'm at my best, I believe.

"I actually agree," he added, describing his ‘demotion,' or opportunity.

"I want to play, and I want to play a lot."

"I spoke with him this morning," said rookie Anton Lander, who's played parts of four seasons with Paajarvi, including three with the SEL's Timra IK. "He wasn't mad, he wasn't down, he was more happy to go down and play and get some more ice-time; hopefully he'll get some power-play time, too, because he's really good there. He wants to play hockey, so it's a good thing for him."

Soon enough, he'll be back to shake that dreaded sophomore slump for good.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
  THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15

COYOTES 4 - OILERS 2

GAME ESSENTIALS
 GAME DAY
 POST-GAME VIDEO
 POST-GAME AUDIO
 THREE STARS
1. Ray Whitney, PHX
2. Taylor Hall, EDM
3. Shane Doan, PHX
 UPDATE
With the loss, the Oilers' record falls to 14-14-3 as the orange and blue remain in 10th spot in the West.
 WHAT'S NEXT
The Oilers' quick two-game road trip wraps up on Saturday night in San Jose. Game time is 8:00 p.m. MST and it can be seen on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.
Taylor Hall made a triumphant return to the lineup, scoring a pair to give the Oilers a chance, but it wasn't enough as Shane Doan and Oliver Ekman-Larsson each scored in the third period in a span of 2:52 to down the Oilers 4-2 Thursday night in Glendale, AZ.

AT THE MORNING SKATE

Phoenix, AZ - Coming into the 2011-12 season and having seen what Taylor Hall's absence can mean when he missed last year's conclusion (17 games in total), his return couldn't have come at a better time.

The 20-year-old has been out since Nov. 28 with a lingering shoulder problem, missing seven games while the orange and blue racked up a disappointing 2-4-1 record; sitting in 10th spot in the NHL's Western Conference with 31 points, the Oilers have a chance to leap back into a post-season spot with a win tonight.

No. 4 will help; so, too, will Corey Potter. The 6'3", 206-pound rearguard came into training camp looking to establish his footing as the Oilers' newest surprise, ultimately battling for the seventh spot on the depth chart but showing, night-in and night-out, that he deserved more.

Potter was on pace to register a 40-point season, having produced two goals and eight points through 16 games, but his hobbled ankle said otherwise, causing the 27-year-old to miss the Oilers' next 12.

"He's good all-around," said Ryan Whitney, who attempted to pinpoint Potter's all encompassing skill-set. "He's got a great shot and he makes those quick, simple passes to get the forwards out of the zone. He makes the easy play and he does it consistently, so he's pretty impressive."

"He's easy to play with," No. 6 added, noting that he'll be paired with Potter in tonight's game." He makes an excellent breakout pass and has a really good understanding of the game, so he's a guy that's very valuable and he'll help out for sure. I'm excited to have him back, because he was such an integral component to our success early on."

As even he would agree, Potter came into the season as an unknown. But he was no stranger to pro hockey, having played four full seasons in the AHL following a four-year stint with Michigan State University when he blossomed into a puck-moving blueliner.

Fellow MSU alum Shawn Horcoff agreed with Whitney's assessment that there isn't much to critique in No. 44's game.

"He was playing great for us before he got hurt, too," the captain said. "He's a guy that moves the puck very well, he's good on the power-play and solid in his own end. There's not too much that he struggles with; the kid's good in all areas."

"It helps our look," added Head Coach Tom Renney, who couldn't hide his enthusiasm. "[We'll have] a little more experience out there; part of our early-season success equation, but we'll keep our expectations realistic since they haven't played in a while."

While Potter was relegated to dry-land training for a portion of his 2-4 week recovery period, Hall was back on the ice almost immediately. While it was a battle with discomfort, the skilled sophomore was lucky not to have had it worse as he returns with a pain-free, strong and equally as skilled shoulder.

"It's gotten to the point where, when I practice or shoot, I don't feel it anymore," he said. "It's almost like it's not even there. I worked hard to rehab it well to get back as strong and as quick as possible.

"I'm going to go into the corners like always and try to play with a lot of heart and a lot of battle," Hall added. "I don't think anything is going to change. The shoulder's strong and it will hold up very well."

It was only seven games, but Hall is well known for his gritty and competitive nature. Having scored seven goals and 18 points on the year, it's a mere blip on the radar; he's ready to return, score a bunch and make up for what has been a challenging period for the orange and blue.

"It's not fun being out of the lineup," he said. "The team didn't do too great and I think that makes it even tougher sitting out. I'm going to have to limit my expectations a little bit and make sure that I'm playing a good team game out there."

SCHEDULING A WIN

November was rough with a road-heavy slate, but December hasn't been much better to this point. The Oilers have amassed a 2-4-0 record and are, once again, staring down many more miles on the team's upcoming cross-national, seven-game road swing.

It all starts here, mind you; and the Oilers are still only two points removed from a post-season spot, making the weeks and games leading up all the more vital.

"We've got to suppress these guys," Renney said of the Coyotes. "These are teams we really have to battle with in order to get our post-season spot. We have to be equal to the challenge tonight; make sure we play a complete game and, at least, play a game that we can really build on."

The schedule has been a bit better leading up to tonight's game. The Oilers last played on Saturday, Dec. 10 in Calgary (a 3-0 loss), but have taken full advantage of the extended break with ample practice time over the past week.

"It's been really good," Renney explained. "We still haven't had the results we've wanted to through all that, mind you. We have to take more responsibility and ownership for the outcome of games and really work to improve ourselves every day. We're capable of that; we need to do that, and should we embrace that again like we have and have had success doing it, then we'll be good.

"We've certainly had an opportunity to regroup a bit, but now it's time to get back on the horse."

With Nikolai Khabibulin still resting up – "Just tired. He's 38 or whatever he is, 138," laughed Renney – Devan Dubnyk will get the nod in goal looking to improve on his 4-7-0 record, 3.02 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
  WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14

THE CAVALRY

Edmonton, AB - With a key road trip coming up against the Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks -- the two teams directly above the Oilers in the standings -- the Edmonton Oilers are getting some help in a big way from sick bay.

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who missed the last two days of practice to try and recover from some nagging injuries, plus Taylor Hall and Corey Potter, are all expected to be back in the lineup in Phoenix tomorrow night.

"It was good. We had a few days without games so I think it was good to get a few days off," said Khabibulin, noting that his absence from the ice Monday and Tuesday wasn't due to anything serious.

"Just basically get some rest, everything back in order and start over," he continued. "It was a couple of good days of working out and checking everything out then back to work."

It was also back to work for Taylor Hall, who looks to be ready to make his return after passing Renney's test this morning.

"The season's long, we still have a long haul ahead of us and I'm glad to be back as soon as I could," Hall said. "It sucks missing games, especially when the team's not doing well. You just want to be back and help but I'm glad I took the extra few days to really get it better and I feel great now."

Another player who passed the on-ice test is Corey Potter, who skated with Theo Peckham and said he was ready to go.

"I was cleared by the doctors, did the test today. Everything checked out well so I'm ready to play tomorrow," Potter said, adding that it will ultimately be a coaches decision on whether he gets back in the lineup.

Coach Renney stated that it will depend how much ice time Potter gets, particularly on the power play. Before the injury, Potter was on the number one unit.

"We'll be prudent here and we'll keep the expectations where they belong and hopefully he can help us sooner rather than later," Renney remarked. "He's done such a good job and he's made the best of this opportunity. We owe him that much to be fair about his integration back into the lineup."

OPPORTUNITY AHEAD

The Oilers sit with 31 points, in 10th place in the Western Conference. Phoenix and San Jose both have 33 points and sit in ninth and eighth, respectively. It's not too difficult to see the importance of this two-game trip to Arizona and California.

"It's obviously an opportunity to catch up to some teams that are in front of us and close the gap between us and the playoffs," noted Ryan Jones. "That's our goal in here right now and we have to win these games if we want to achieve that goal."

The team looks to be going with Hall, Hemsky, Horcoff and Gagner, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle for the top two lines. That means Jones will be reunited with Ryan Smyth, who he had some success with earlier in the season. Eric Belanger will play down the middle between the two.

"Continue to battle low," Jones said about playing with Smyth. "Smytty is a junkyard dog type of guy and he needs to get the puck to the net so we need to both get there and allow (Belanger) to use his hands, make passes and use his shot so we can score goals as a line and create offence."

WORLD JUNIOR MEMORIES

On the day in which Team Canada selected its roster for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships, Taylor Hall reflected back to the time he got cut.

"You're up all night, you're thinking about if you're going to make the team or not. I've got a funny story, my first year I was rooming with Matt Duchene and he ended up getting a call at about 5:30 in the morning. About half an hour passed and I was thinking 'okay, I made the team because I didn't get a call'," Hall said. "Sure enough, I got the call and I had to go see Pat (Quinn) and I got cut but I got to play in the World Juniors the next year. It was a lot of fun and I have a lot of great memories.

"Getting cut made me a lot stronger."

As a former World Junior coach for Team Canada, Tom Renney also did some reflecting, noting that both of the Oilers' top overall selections -- Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- found themselves on the outside looking in at the tournament.

"I think that you want to put the very best team on the ice as you possibly can," said Renney. "On behalf of those players who get released, it serves a great motivation normally. I don't think anyone should look at it as fatal, it should be looked at as a real springboard to continue to grow their career through an experience that allows them to do that if they take it properly."  

-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com



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