Ryan O'Marra. The third-best player on the 2005-06 Erie Otters. The former first-round pick of the New York Islanders, a team renowned for its management genius and drafting acumen. A man whose offense for the Springfield Falcons last season paled next to Bryan Young's. The "and the rest!" of the Ryan Smyth trade.
And an NHLer.
Scott Reynolds referred to O'Marra as "Lazarus" - making a miraculous return to aid the Oilers in their hour of need. But, with all respect to my esteemed colleague, I must dissent. Lazarus came back from the dead. Hockey-wise, we have no indication Ryan O'Marra has ever been alive.
What's really remarkable isn't that O'Marra has dragged himself from the scrap heap of minor hockey and into the show. It's that he hasn't. That he stinks as much as ever but has made it to the major leagues anyway. A much more impressive trick, even if it needs a more-than-usually-cooperative partner.
O'Marra spent last year, his second full season of professional hockey, in Springfield with the Falcons. Having suffered injury problems in the past, it was encouraging to see O'Marra play sixty-two of seventy games last year. Unfortunately, that was the only encouragement we got.
For in those sixty-two games, O'Marra scored once. December 27, against the Hartford Wolfpack, the tying goal in an eventual 4-3 overtime loss. On the Falcons alone he was outscored by goon Guillaume Lefebvre, defensemen Mike Gabinet and Bryan Young, and a cameo appearance by 18-year-old Jordan Eberle, among far too many others. The Internet trembles when it lists how many players on even the remarkably dreadful 2008-09 Springfield Falcons took young O'Marra to the cleaners.
Adding nine assists (tied for fourteenth on the team with Lefebvre), O'Marra stank the joint out offensively. He also went -12, which with his ice time was bad even for the Falcons. And as Gabe Desjardins has shown he did it against cotton candy opposition. There are no positives there, no "well, but..."s. He was awful by traditional statistics and worse by modern ones. In absolutely no category was Ryan O'Marra, a second-year pro and former first round pick, so much as a replacement level AHL player. He was horrible horrible horrible by the numbers and looked even worse. He wasn't Jesse Niinimaki but by the hockey gods he was up there.
So when I say he has been better so far in 2009-10, take taht in context. O'Marra has already doubled his goal production (to, lest we forget, two) on an all-round better hockey team. His points-per-game have also jumped from a historically bad .161 to a merely putrid .267. I don't have the statistics but I wonder how many first-round forwards played over 100 AHL games and were worse than O'Marra's .213 career average to date. Michael Henrich, to pick a name, was .356 over his career.
The Oilers are short on men, of course. Charles Linglet, 27, is the best Falcons forward but has an AHL contract the Oilers seem reluctant to buy. Chris Minard is nearly Linglet's equal and has an NHL deal but picked a bad time to get hurt. The leading remaining Falcon scorer with an NHL contract is Colin McDonald. McDonald is an archetypical Coke machine, reviled in the community for his lack of production, but his career points-per-game of .309 destroys O'Marra while McDonald is a more physical player and far and away O'Marra's superior defensively
McDonald isn't the only one, either. Even Geoff Paukovich, though he has slumped to a two goal, no assist start, outscored O'Marra per game last season against tougher opposition and was also better in his own zone. Fringe Falcons, such as Vyacheslav Trukhno or Bryan Lerg, had offense better than O'Marra's and were arguably better all-round players as well.
But in any case, there are two healthy Falcons with NHL contracts who are miles clear of O'Marra at this stage of their careers, and this is without considering unrestricted free agents or a multitude of good options on AHL contracts. Or thinking about O'Marra's obscene cap hit as a former mid-first rounder ($1.22 million, surely the worst value for money in the NHL while he's up here). If O'Marra had been a third rounder he'd be nowhere near the NHL. Why should his pedigree get him a chance he hasn't earned?
(Thank you to Jennifer Bock for providing the photo used in this article. The Copper & Blue salutes you!)