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Magnus Paajarvi Is a Waiver-Wire Steal After St. Louis Blues Drop the Forward

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistDecember 29, 2014

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Magnus Paajarvi #56 of the St. Louis Blues waits for play to begin against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on December 6, 2014 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On Monday morning, the St. Louis Blues placed little-used forward Magnus Paajarvi on waivers, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie:

Bob McKenzie @TSNBobMcKenzie

Derek Roy (NSH) clears wiavers. STL puts Paajarvi in waivers. BUF also puts Matt Hackett on waivers.

He should absolutely be claimed by another NHL team.

Paajarvi’s arrival on the waiver wire is the third significant transaction of his NHL career, and it’s a significant step downward from previous moves.

In 2009, he was drafted 10th overall by the Edmonton Oilers; general manager Steve Tambellini was clearly thrilled to make the selection. Four years and one general manager later, he’d fallen out of favour in Edmonton but had sufficient cachet (along with a second-round draft pick) to command veteran winger David Perron in trade.

Now he’s on the waiver wire, meaning that an NHL team interested in his services need not invest a high draft pick or trade a useful veteran to secure his services. He’s free for the taking.

The reason Paajarvi should be attractive to an NHL club is not because he was once a top-10 draft pick or because he was dealt for Perron. He should be an attractive option for an NHL team because he’s a useful player, one still young enough to have upside and cheap enough not to cause cap problems.

OTTAWA - DECEMBER 26: Magnus Svensson Paajarvi #21 of Team Sweden skates against Team Finland during the IIHF World Junior Championships held at the Ottawa Civic Centre on December 26, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Team Sweden defeated Team Finland 3-1
Jana Chytilova/Getty Images
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There are three points that are absolutely critical to appreciating what kind of player Paajarvi is, and all of them were identified before he was drafted. A few months prior to the 2009 NHL draft, The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy spoke to scouts for an article in that magazine’s Future Watch issue. Finish was identified as a problem by one scout, who said Paajarvi lacked focus around the net, but that same scout noted the player’s speed and drive.

“His skating is definitely his best asset by far,” the scout told Kennedy. “Work ethic is second.”

Whoever that unnamed scout is, he called it. Paajarvi’s speed and willingness to work have been his best qualities as an NHL forward; his inability to score has been his weakest point.

The former 10th overall pick has not been an offensive weapon of any particular note in the majors; he possesses speed and decent playmaking vision but simply lacks goal-scoring ability. At virtually every level, he’s been a volume shooter who simply can’t manage a double-digit shooting percentage.

But that doesn’t mean Paajarvi has no utility as an NHL player; it just means he won’t be anchoring a scoring line.

Paajarvi has virtually all the tools that NHL teams look for in a defensive specialist. He skates like the wind, meaning he can get back in a hurry when the situation calls for it, and he can recover from a mistake that would doom a slower player. He’s listed at 6’3”, 208 pounds, which means he has above-average size for an NHL forward; not only can he get to where he needs to go in a hurry, but it’s also difficult to overpower him physically.

Even more importantly, he’s committed to a defensive game. It’s a commitment that has almost certainly cost him points over his career and has at times lessened his effectiveness overall as a player, but in the right role, that commitment can be awfully useful.

Paajarvi’s physical gifts and his approach to the game are reflected in the fact that even though he’s never been a big scorer, he has posted solid underlying numbers at virtually every juncture of his NHL career:

Magnus Paajarvi: Selected five-on-five statistics
SeasonGamesPoints/60Relative CorsiZone Start
2010-11801.363.251.6
2011-12410.756.647.7
2012-13421.54-1.651.0
2013-14551.321.651.8
2014-15100.001.445.7
BehindtheNet.ca

What we see is a player who, for the most part, has produced middling (but not non-existent, prior to this season’s 10-game run) offence. Relative Corsi is shot attempt differential over an average hour of five-on-five play as compared to the team average.

Breaking it down further, the Blues were slightly better at out-shooting their opponents last season with Paajarvi on the ice than they were when he was on the bench. Zone start shows the percentage of shifts that start in the offensive zone as opposed to the defensive zone; even as a rookie, Paajarvi was responsible enough to start a bunch of shifts in his own end of the ice.

A little over 200 games into his NHL career, Paajarvi isn’t a mystery; he’s a big, fast, two-way player with modest offensive ability. He was crowded out on a stacked St. Louis roster, but many players just like him have had long careers and been valued forwards for decent NHL teams.

That should be enough to ensure that Paajarvi doesn’t pass through waivers unclaimed. He isn’t old; at 23 years of age, he probably hasn’t even hit his peak as a player yet. His $1.2 million cap hit shouldn’t scare many teams off, and the fact that he’s in the final year of his deal means there’s no need to worry about next year’s salary cap.

A claim on Paajarvi is a low-risk gamble on a player who has shown he can play in the NHL. There should be multiple teams seriously considering making such a claim.

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com and BehindtheNet.ca

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

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