It is no secret that heading into training camp, Edmonton Oilers forward Iiro Pakarinen was nothing more than an afterthought in the mind of head coach Todd McLellan. While a guy like Anton Slepyshev made enough of an impression to start the year in Edmonton, Pakarinen was sent back to the AHL to wait his turn. Well, it may have taken a little longer than he had hoped, but the 24-year old has clearly grabbed the attention of his head coach.
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Since being recalled in late October, Pakarinen has gone from being a seldom-used fourth line guy to a player McLellan now feels comfortable using in all situations. Be it on the penalty kill, power play or as a possible spark in a top-six role, the former seventh-round pick of the Florida Panthers has carved himself out a spot in this lineup. While we may be talking about a rather small sample size, one would be hard-pressed to look towards next season and not include No. 26 as an automatic on this roster.
Pakarinen Has Done A Bit of Everything
His willingness to engage physically on a nightly basis is something this team desperately needs and when you mix that in with the hard-working Finn’s ability to play anywhere in the lineup and chip in from time-to-time on the offence, he suddenly becomes an invaluable tool for this coaching staff. Can any of you remember the last time Edmonton had that sort of player in a third/fourth line role?
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In fact, if you add the play of Zack Kassian into the equation, the Oilers could actually have some real stability in their bottom six for the first time in ages. After years of reshuffling the deck, it looks as though the quartet of Kassian, Matt Hendricks, Mark Letestu and Pakarinen could help lighten their general manager’s workload come next June and July. Considering the significant additions general manager Peter Chiarelli will be looking to make in the coming months, not having to worry about also bringing in a slew of depth guys can only be a good thing.
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At the end of the day, when the Oilers decided to clean house and bring in a new management team and coaching staff, my guess is none of them looked at Pakarinen as anything more than an organizational depth guy. That is clearly no longer the case and the player deserves all the credit. There were no shortcuts taken and something tells me that will make the contract the pending restricted free agent eventually signs all the more satisfying.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.