Top line ready for action
Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Magnus Paajarvi clicking and ready for Friday's season opener
And for the players as well.
"It would have been nice to play but with the numbers we had we needed to watch some guys," said Jordan Eberle, who sat out both pre-season games last weekend. "We've been waiting awhile to play some games. Got a couple more days here then we finally get after it."
All week, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle have been skating on the Barons' top line alongside Magnus Paajarvi.
"This is something everybody wanted to see last year," said Barons head coach Todd Nelson of the Paajarvi-Eberle-RNH combination. "We talked about it and that left-wing side is interchangeable. If we run into a situation where teams are taking liberties on Jordan or Ryan, I can throw Dane Byers there on the left side so we have a lot of combinations."
Paajarvi gets a great chance to essentially audition for a prime spot on the Oilers roster when the NHL resumes, provided he can create some chemistry with his star linemates.
"For Magnus, this is a good opportunity for him to play with those guys. With his speed, he creates scoring chances as it is but I think playing alongside them he's going to get more opportunities."
Nugent-Hopkins was excited to get going and liked what he saw from his linemates.
"It's going to be good," said Nugent-Hopkins. "Obviously, me and Jordan played together a lot last year and I got to see some time with Maggie too. Hopefully we get the chemistry going right away."
The chemistry was showing through two days of practice. The trio is hoping they can carry it forward into the weekend.
"It's an honour to play with top NHL guys," gushed Paajarvi. "Hopefully I can play with them as long as I can. They're great players and I'll try to use my assets for the line and hopefully we can do something well."
Magnus was also quick to downplay it as his 'big' opportunity.
"Of course, it's a chance but I've been handed a lot of chances. I've taken a few and some I haven't taken so I wouldn't say this is the one and only. It's a good opportunity and I love playing with them in practice so far."
Paajarvi talked about what role he might play on that line.
"My speed and (ability to) make plays," he continued. "I want to make plays with them because they're going to give you time to do it. Nuge with his playing sense and Ebs can score from anywhere, we all know that. And maybe try to use my body more to get with my speed and give more ice to them as well.
"It's hard to say before a game has been played but we'll figure it out eventually."
In 2010-11, Paajarvi did play a lot of games on the same line as Eberle during a successful rookie NHL season during which he had 15 goals and 34 points in 80 games.
"I've played with both those guys. Nuge last year and Mags the year before," said Eberle. "Mags brings that dimension with that speed and he's tough for defenders to keep up to. He's going to be able to push guys back and hopefully we can get some chemistry going early."
MAGNUS READY TO REBOUND
Paajarvi came into this season with a completely different mindset as he looks to rebound from a challenging 2011-12 campaign.
"Playing-wise, not that much but mentally for sure," he said. "I feel better. I feel a lot more calm, a lot more safe and secure I would say."
Last season was a tough one for Paajarvi. Coming off his 15-goal effort in 2010-11, he struggled to find his game. He only managed two goals at the NHL level in 41 games with eight points.
"It was the first year in my career that I had a hard time throughout the whole season. Except the last half with the playoffs down here; playing well down here gave me a boost."
With 25 points in 34 games -- and 11 points in 14 playoff games -- Paajarvi attributes his strong play in the latter half of the season to his support network.
"I got a lot of help with my family and coaches. Everybody wanted to help."
The change in Paajarvi's mental state has not gone unnoticed by Coach Nelson.
"He seems more professional. He's still a happy-go-lucky guy and he's fun to be around and has a great attitude but it just seems like he's more business-like right now," he said.
"His personality is to always have fun and he's a fun guy to hang around with but right now it seems like he's more business-like"
Overall, Nelson has been impressed by what he's seen from the trio.
"They look pretty good together right now," Nelson said. "There's some good chemistry but we'll have to see how that translates in a game."
HARTIKAINEN IN THE MIX
While Paajarvi, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins have been on the top line at even strength, the team is looking to shake things up on the man advantage.
At practice on Tuesday, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins were playing on the first power-play unit with Teemu Hartikainen. Paajarvi was skating with Tyler Pitlick and Josh Green.
"If we want a power forward we can put Hartikainen there so we have the luxury of a bunch of different combinations to see what works and what doesn't work," said Nelson, who added that Hartikainen's style of play is an important dimension to the Barons.
"He has to play like he did in playoffs last year. He was very dominant and played a very physical game. He has the ability to score goals and he's a power forward. That's the role that I think suits him the best. I think if players like that get away from doing those sorts of things, it's a bit misleading for him.
"Harty has to play a hard game. Hard to play against, hard in the corners. When he gets opportunities, finish and score some goals and he has the ability to do that."
Hartikainen has been skating with Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander at even strength which is the de facto third line but that doesn't mean he won't have offensive opportunities.
"He's playing in front of the net on the power play and does a great job with that. If he's on the third line, he's going to play power play minutes."