Photo by Steven Christy
Iiro Pakarinen has easily been the breakout star for the Oklahoma City Barons this season. I eyeballed his potential during the offseason simply because he was a Finnish winger, a thing that OKC had always had until they didn’t. Big bodied, well managed around the world, and a defensive / offensive threat – he was built for North American hockey, and certainly for the 14-15 Edmonton Oilers.
He was recalled early in the season, even scored a goal, but was quickly returned after five games. The change in coaches is likely going to push a lot of players like Iiro (there aren’t many like him, by the way) in to the big leagues simply because Todd Nelson knows them intimately. The skinny on Iiro is that he is a worth while endeavor, perhaps even long after this season.
He is poised to hit career pro highs in all statistical categories, and he’s played less than 45 games through the 14-15 season. He scores, he assists, he is responsible – he is easily the Barons only reliable source for scoring and offensive defending. Yet let’s pause just for a minute, and discuss his intangibles (a word I loathe, but certainly works here).
Like Anton Lander, who has revived his career with Todd Nelson in the quiver, Pakarinen is a better-than-AHL player that works well with good placement in the lineup, but more than that, can do so many things right.
Defensively he is a gift from the gods. He understands the angles of the game better than most forwards his age. This is a portion of his game that goes under-appreciated, but it is probably the most admirable quality that Iiro possesses on the ice.
Offensively he is as strong as an ox, agile on his feet, and Teemu Hartikainen-like with about 35 more pounds of extra girth. He is a challenging forward for defenses as he is about as nimble as a Finnish player can be. His strength is, well, in his strength. Hands that can hit marks around the frame of the goal, and accompanying stick work that is NHL-esque in every possible way.
The fact that he has now played 30+ AHL games and only 5 NHL ones is terribly frightful. But it is something that Iiro fancies a challenge. He is certainly worth the investment that the Oilers are willing to make, and with Todd Nelson in the drivers seat, Iiro The Hero will do great things. Go get ’em!