Linus Omark can score. Over the past 2½ years he has proven that in the three top professional leagues outside of the NHL, and has now earned his shot in the best league of all.
Omark was a shot in the dark when the Oilers picked him in the fourth round of the 2007 Entry Draft. Already 20 years old and passed over in two previous drafts, Linus was a tiny guy (5'9, 168) whose offensive wizardry wasn't apparent in his stats, just 8-9-17 in 50 games with Lulea of the Swedish Elite League. Overaged, undersized, unimpressive stats - seemed like a real bad gamble as seen from the cheap seats here in Edmonton.
But his offensive game has continued to develop. Omark nearly doubled his point output the following season, posting 11-21-32, and very nearly redoubled it in 2008-09 when he led Lulea in scoring with 55 points in 53 games. For good measure Linus finished second on the club in goals (23), plus-minus (+18), and PiM (66), behind three different teammates. He finished fifth in SEL in both goals and assists, and third in points, just four behind scoring champion Per-Age Skroder.
In 2009-10, Omark moved on to Moscow Dynamo of the KHL, where his 36 points ranked third on the team, behind respected international snipers Mattias Weinhandl and Jiri Hudler (who isn't a bad comparable, come to think of it), while his 20 goals ranked second on the squad. Meanwhile his reputation as a YouTube sensation grew with some highlight-reel goals, especially a dazzling lob shot in a shootout which spoke to both amazing skill and cojones the size of pumpkins.
In 2010-11 Omark brought his skills to North America. As a scoring winger he could hardly have picked a worse time to try to break in with the Edmonton Oilers, who were bursting at the seams with rookie wingmen already - Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, fellow Swede Magnus Paajarvi. Rather predictably sent down to Oklahoma City at the end of camp, Omark made some intemperate if not entirely inaccurate comments about politics. Rather than sulk about it he proceeded to put up excellent numbers in OKC, posting 14-17-31, +7 in 28 games; while he has since been passed on the club's scoring list by the likes of gifted AHL sniper Alexandre Giroux, Omark's 1.11 points per game remains tops on the Barons. Linus grabbed headlines with a five-goal game, and put himself first in line when the inevitable injuries to skill wingers started happening on the big club.
The call came in early December when Ales Hemsky went down with a groin injury. When Hemsky (briefly) returned to the line-up in late December Omark was shipped back down for a weekend, but his reprieve came when Jordan Eberle went down with an ankle sprain on New Year's Day.
As a group we moved Omark up three spots this time around, however the individual rankings showed quite a range, both from one pundit to another and each when compared to our previous rankings. Ben moved Omark up five spots; Scott and Derek two spots each (and into the top five in each case), Jonathan one. Meanwhile, Bruce the Contrarian dropped Omark three spots, so of course I was the one who was given the task of explaining myself here. (Thanks, Scott!)
I actually haven't soured on Omark at all, it's just a few other prospects like Marincin, Dubnyk, Peckham, and Lander have worked their way up the charts since last summer, while Omark himself passed a backsliding Gilbert Brule. Anywhere in the top ten is a strong placement in this particular group, and in truth my rankings 5 through 10 probably would change on a daily basis if we were given do-overs. They're all excellent prospects in my view, and a few more beyond them into the teens.
For sure there is lots to like in Omark's game. So far at the NHL level, Linus has been given nearly an ideal opportunity - gradually increasing "soft" minutes in a top six role on a secondary scoring line, and increasing responsibility running the powerplay in the Hemsky's absence. His results to this point are fairly so-so: 3-6-9 in 20 GP, with an unflattering -7 suggesting his line has been getting worked to some extent. Meanwhile the powerplay has been spinning its wheels no matter who is behind the wheel.
Omark has had a handful of very impressive games, and the Oilers have tended to do very well in those games. Of particular interest are his splits in wins versus losses: 3-3-6, +2 in five wins, but 0-3-3, -9 in fifteen losses. This would suggest that Omark is indeed capable of being a positive difference-maker, but that he disappears into the woodwork far too often when things aren't going well. I'm not going to read a whole lot into that - tiny sample size obviously, especially on the Wins side of the equation! - but something to watch for in the future.
Numbers aside, by eye Omark has gradually played better as he has become acclimatized to the NHL, and he certainly has NHL-grade talent. He is a terrier on the puck and surprisingly strong along the boards. He's had relatively little shelter in his NHL time to date (read: he doesn't play on Dustin Penner's line much). He's won many fans in Edmonton and around the league, and has earned some notoriety for his YouTube-quality skills.
Nonetheless his position on the depth chart remains tenuous - once fellow RWs Hemsky, Eberle and/or Gilbert Brule return from injury, where does he fit on the depth chart? He's one of the few on the club who can be sent to OKC without need of clearing waivers, so such a transaction may well represent the path of least resistance for Steve Tambellini when the time comes. Still and all, Omark's gotten a decent chance to demonstrate his skills on an NHL stage this season, has made a pretty good impression in the process, and appears to be a viable prospect for a decent NHL career.