Magnus Paajarvi is a rare breed of player. It's not often someone breaks onto the international scene like he did at age 16, and it's not often a NHL team has to come out and say that they will not be making one of their teenage players available to participate in his FOURTH World Junior Hockey Championship. It's also not often a player changes his name when he reaches the NHL: It's hard to refer to him as anything but "MPS" for those of us who got used to talking about him before he made the bigs. The Svensson name lives on in his older brother, Bjorn Svensson, a former import player for the Saskatoon Blades and current player for Timra of the Elitserien. But the Paajarvi half must be where all the talent came from: poor Bjorn got the short end of the stick on that front.
Paajarvi-Svensson, as he was known then, broke onto the Swedish hockey scene as a 14 year old prodigy, playing in the finals of the country's top youth hockey tournament (TV-Pucken) while making his debut in the U20 SuperElit league (Sweden's top junior circuit) as part of the Malmo Redhawks' program. He also made some international appearances at the U16 level for Sweden, recording 5 points in 8 games. At 15, he was improving on the totals at each of those levels, and the inevitable eventually happened at age 16: he turned pro, and was on the national U20 team. His debut with Timra of the Elitserien made him the fourth youngest player in the league's history, and his appearance on the U20 team made him the youngest Swede to ever accomplish that feat. And it wasn't a bad year for the Swedes, either: they won their first of back-to-back silver medals that year in the Czech Republic. For more on Paajarvi's ascent in Sweden, you can visit his no longer updated website.
As with a lot of elite players, the more visible you are, the more your faults get picked apart come draft day. The Edmonton Oilers gladly picked him up at 10th overall in 2009 and let him play in the Elitserien one more year at age 18. This drop occurred despite dominating the U18 Worlds with 12 points in 6 games just two months earlier, as well as posting 7 points in 6 games at the U20's four months before that. He's improved every year: at 18, he posted 29 points and 12 goals in the Elitserien, plus 10 points in six games coming out of the tougher pool at the 2010 World Juniors. He also made his national men's team debut at the 2010 World Championships, and ended up being one of the tournament's All-Stars with nine points and five goals in nine games for the bronze medal winners. All indications were that he was ready for the next challenge: the NHL.
Things haven't gone swimmingly for Paajarvi in his first few games in the NHL, but one thing has been a constant in his career: he starts early, but continually improves. Really, only his surprising dominance at the World Championships was out of character for him, as he usually takes a while before the offense finally comes. Blessed with great speed and hockey smarts, it's kind of funny how his first goal, scored on Oct. 16 vs. the Oilers' arch rival: the Calgary Flames. Have a look after the jump:
Creating goals off a down low cycle with grinding linemates might not be how he pictured it, and certainly not a little tap in from the crease that appears to go off his leg. But hey, if anything, it shows good hockey sense: sometimes the less complicated you make things on the ice, the better it works out. So far, he only has been able to beat Miikka Kiprusoff, so maybe by adapting the Finnish surname he's reduced his scoring prowess in half, only able to beat Finnish goalies. He scored a much more typical goal against the Flames ten days later, rushing off the wing and putting it past Kirpsuoff with one hand on his stick, but since then he's hit the first scoring slump of his NHL career, going 0 for November. That's probably why the World Junior talk happened, but it seems like a pointless venture for everyone but the Swedish team: he's accomplished as much personally at that level as he can, although winning gold would certainly be a great accomplishment for him.
History suggests that Paajarvi isn't far away from a breakthrough at the NHL level, so it's best to keep his recent struggles in perspective. And besides, he only scored 3 points as a 16 year old in the Elitserien, so his NHL career is already off to a better early start. We'll be talking about Magnus for quite some time to come... his first NHL goal is just another time to reflect on where he's been, and where he'll be.