EDMONTON OILERS: THE LINUS OMARK ERA COMES TO AN END

Linus Omark

Photo by Krm500 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Diminutive-but-supremely-skilled Swedish forward Linus Omark has made the decision to play for Zug in the Swiss NLA, although the Oilers retain his rights for another two years.  This comes following a difficult season for the outspoken (or honest, as I prefer to think of him) Omark, where after everyone thought he had made it to the NHL to stay, playing time in Edmonton became difficult to come by and he was eventually sent back down to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons to get some prime minutes.  Everything was going well, with Linus doing his usual trick of ripping up the competition at that level, but then he proceeded to break his leg.  Had that not happened, he could very well have clawed his way back up.  Whilst he did recover and even get recalled to Edmonton later in the year, he was not placed in a position to succeed and was scratched many nights.

The hype for Omark coming into the 10-11 season was considerable.  He had made his mark (no pun intended) on the SEL and the KHL, and now people expected him to come to North America, rip the doors off the AHL, and halfway through the year come and strut his stuff in Edmonton.  And that’s exactly what he did.  Omark proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the minor leagues are way beneath him, he’s too tenacious and skilled for that level, and made his long-awaited debut in Oiler’s silks on December 10th, 2010.  The Oilers won that game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout, thanks to Omark’s game-winning stunning-but-cheeky spin-o-rama move against goalie Dan Ellis, after having already recorded an assist – his first NHL point – earlier in the game.  He skated in hard and fast, picked up the puck at center ice, performed the spin-o-rama as he was going over the blue-line to massive applause from the crowd, froze Ellis with a fake slap-shot and calmly slid the puck five-hole between the legs of the stunned goalie.  The balls on that kid for trying such a move in his first NHL game.  The crowd, which was already electric, went wild.  His team-mates flooded the ice in celebration, congratulating the little guy on winning the game for them.

The Tampa Bay players were not happy, saying he was showboating and it was unnecessary (veteran players seem to have this thing about young players showing respect before they “earn the right” to show up their fellow NHLers, but I say you earn respect by being that ballsy and winning the game for your team, but that’s just me).  Yet the rest of the league took notice, the goal being replayed again and again.  Omark stuck with the team, playing 51 games for the rest of the season whilst putting away 27 points.  Pretty good secondary production.

The thing that people began to realise about Omark was that he wasn’t all about flash and dash in the shootouts.  He was a quality player on the powerplay, and whilst he was pretty lazy when it came to play away from the puck, he was an absolute bulldog on the forecheck – battling along the sideboards, often beating out much larger players with sheer tenacity and grit.  He isn’t a fast player, but he’s quick in close, and has incredible puck skills.  That’s how you want your skilled players to be.

Omark was not shy on or off the ice.  The day he was cut by Edmonton in Training Camp, he was unashamedly angry when being interviewed.  He claimed he was being sent down due to politics, rather than not being good enough – which is tough to dispute.  All Summer the Oilers had been hyping up their 3 previous first rounders, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, and despite the issues that bringing in three young rookies all at the same time could (and did) bring, they were all basically guaranteed a roster spot, whilst Omark – a rookie yes, but an older more experienced one – was left out in the cold, despite a strong camp.  However, he later admitted to perhaps being a little too bitter about the demotion, and realised that learning the North American game in the AHL was pretty valuable.  He even had an incredible 5 goal game whilst with the Barons, which only served to increase the hype around him.  His lack of subtlety when it came to discussing things has earned him equal parts criticism and praise.  People say a guy who hasn’t yet made the NHL full time should be more respectful of management and realise his place, whilst others have said his openness is refreshing and a nice change from cliché answers that hockey players usually give.

After this season was over, Omark said on his twitter account, though not in quite so many words, that despite his tumultuous season he was still focussing on making the NHL and that he hoped the Oilers would give him a chance with another team.  Unfortunately, the Oilers have not been able to find a trade-partner, after they reportedly tried to trade him at the draft.  That doesn’t mean that no-one wants Omark, but rather that the price is probably too high and he’s a bit of an unknown in many people’s eyes.

Despite what some others think, I truly believe that Omark has bona-fide NHL skills, as his 30 points in 65 games show.  Yes he’s a bit of a one-trick pony in terms of not being good defensively.  But nor is he just a shoot-out “YouTube star”.  Otherwise he wouldn’t have put up 30 points in 65 games.  He is NOT a new Rob Schremp, another former Oilers draft pick who was highly touted because of his insane (and I mean INSANE) puck skills but lacked the skating ability and grit to make it full time in the NHL (I actually think Schremp could have made it, he did manage to put up some points, but whatever.)  A team like Columbus, Phoenix or Nashville, who could all use some firepower up front, could really use someone like Omark – his personality would also bring a bit of panache to those franchises – and its a wonder he hasn’t been traded yet.

All the best to Linus, I know he’ll be ripping up the Swiss League very soon.  If anyone can put themselves back in the picture for NHL employment, Omark can.  For Edmonton fans, we will never forget that goal.  Beauty.

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