The Edmonton Oilers have signed Finnish forward Iiro Pakarinen to a two-year $1.63M ELC. The deal pays $70K in the AHL and an NHL cap hit of $817K. Pakarinen, 24, will become an RFA at the end of the deal in 2015-16.
That said the Oilers fanbase is still curious as to who Pakarinen is as little is known of him in North America at the moment.
Here’s what we do know.
Pakarinen was passed over in the 2010 NHL Draft
Pakarinen isn’t completely unfamiliar to the NHL. He was drafted 184th overall (7th round) in 2011 by the Florida Panthers and GM Dale Tallon. This after being passed over in his first year of eligibility in 2010.
So why was Pakarinen passed over in the draft?
In 2010 he was ranked 63rd amongst European skaters by Central Scouting Services (CSS) but scouts still weren’t sold on his game. This was despite the fact that Pakarinen had played for Finland at the 2009 U-18 tournament and 2010 World Junior Championships (WJC). As a member of KaiPa junior team, Pakarinen had posted over a point-per-game with 12 points in a small 11 game sample size. As a member of KaiPa in the SM-Liiga his numbers were rather pedestrian which isn’t unusual for a young player in Europe.
In 2011 he eventually fell to 83rd amongst European skaters after leading Finland as an assistant captain to a disappointing 6th place finish at the WJC. Pakarinen was supposed to play a bigger role with the team offensively and was held to just one goal in the tournament. Another pedestrian year points wise and a poor playoff performance for KaiPa was another reason his draft stock fell.
Forutunately Dale Tallon and the Panthers felt there was enough raw talent that they took a flyer on Pakarinen in the 7th round.
Panthers were unable to come to terms with Pakarinen
After the draft Pakarinen improved his goal scoring ability potting 10 in 54 games in 2012 before signing with HIFK in 2013. The move saw Pakarinen struggle in the regular season but play a bigger role in the playoffs and contribute offensively with 3 goals in a first round loss. The Panthers however were unable to come to terms with an agreement with Pakarinen and relinquished their rights in June 2013.
“The decision to not sign Pakarinen isn’t surprising. A 7th round pick, 184th overall. Pakarinen was drafted in his 2nd year of eligibility and his numbers in SM-Liiga (top hockey league in Finland and 2nd strongest in Europe) have not been impressive. The 21-year-old has played 171 games in Finland, scoring only 43 career points (0.25 PPG). Due to his age, the Panthers would have been forced to sign Pakarinen to a 3-year contract” – Alexander Calloway, SB Nation “Litter Box Cats“
After the Panthers relinquished their rights, Pakarinen then chose to agree to a two-year extension to stay in Finland.
Then he broke out.
It’s no secret Pakarinen struggled in 2012-13, but he broke out in a big way in 2013-14. He had 20 goals in 60 games playing for HIFK and even wore an “A”. The breakout campaign didn’t stop there as he helped Finland win a Silver medal at the 2014 World Championships.
“Pakarinen plays like a demon in tight spots, and his stick handling ability and skating agility compares favorably to any of the top young players in Finland. Rather than focus on artistic playmaking, however, Pakarinen prefers the physical elements of the game. Offensively, he does have a hard, accurate shot which suggests he could be a dangerous sniper. While his physical style explains his pedestrian offensive numbers, that abrasiveness has gained him both attention and notoriety from scouts. As coaches and scouts will tell you, it’s easier to tone down a player who is too aggressive than it is to try and instill competitiveness.” – Hockey’s Future
He’s played back-to-back years with Finland at the World Championships in depth positions but has a tremendous ability to use his hockey sense and find open space to put himself in dangerous scoring positons.
Pakarinen is a shoot first, ask questions later type of player. He has a NHL calibre release on his wrist shot and uses it often.
“A large winger shooting from his right. An energetic player with good skating and a nice frame. Possesses a good sharp, wrist shot and is a solid finisher. A hard worker and versatile player…” – Elite Prospects
The newest Oiler also possesses a 6’1 194lbs frame. He’ll need to add a little more strength and conditioning to keep up with the physicality and long season of an NHL season. He plays with physicality but sometimes has a tendency to disappear in his own zone, let alone the entire game.
He’s also a right-handed shot that plays the RW. Remember when he broke Team Canada’s backs with the GWG at this years World Championships? Ben Scrivens might.
If Pakarinen can take to the North American game, the Oilers might have a player here that can step in on the third-line as a regular. Worst case scenario the Oilers end up with another version of Lennart Petrell, who had some hype as a versitile player coming from Finland that could play reasonable minutes in a depth role on an NHL roster. Petrell as we remember wasn’t much to be excited about in hindsight.
Where does Pakarinen fit into Oilers plan?
It’s early and Pakarinen is going to need to establish himself with the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL next season. He needs to work on his consistency and making an impact in every game, something he’s struggled with in Finland. He also has to work on his foot speed. He’s not the swiftest skater, but he’s not a poor skater by any means. Pakarinen needs to develop a next gear in his step to continue to find open ice, something he did very well with this season in Finland and at the World Championships.
Long term projections have Pakarinen fitting into the 3rd line as a versitile forward that can contribute offensively and play with some energy.
Oilers Finnish Scout Matti Virmanen pushed hard for Pakarinen who played for the Silver Medal winning Finns and their GM Jari Kurri at WHC
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) June 16, 2014
There is a bit of an Oilers connection as former Oiler Jari Kurri was the GM of Team Finland at the World Championships and has seen him first hand. It doesn’t hurt that the Oilers Finnish scout Matti Virmanen pushed hard to make a move on Pakarinen.
In hindsight the Oilers haven’t had much luck developing talent from Europe in recent years. Anton Belov, Teemu Hartikainen, Roman Horak, Philip Larsen, Lennart Petrell, Toni Rajala and Antti Tyrvainen are some of the most notables on the list that didn’t pan out in Edmonton whether it was missed opportunity, poor scouting or negotiations that just didn’t work out.
Only time will tell if Pakarinen is a player or not.
If he is, the Oilers will have Virmanen to thank.