AHL prospect rankings: #20 – Ryan O’Marra

Jonathan Willis
January 04 2009 09:23PM

In this series, Jonathan Willis ranks the Oilers’ prospects playing for the Springfield Falcons in the AHL.

It’s been a long, long fall for Ryan O’Marra. He was a first-round pick in the 2005 Draft, taken 15th overall by the New York Islanders. The general consensus was that Milbury had taken a safe pick, and there wasn’t a negative word to be said about O’Marra. Here are some comments from ISS and Redline Report (h/t to Lowetide):

Redline: A RLR favorite. Can do it all. Very good skater with excellent, crisp edges, particularly for a big man. Works well in all three zones and is very smart positionally- knows where to be on the ice. Smart, heady player with good hands and a nose for the net. Has pro size and plays a pro style game. Very willing to battle physically and can be dominant below the circles... Projection: Versatile 2nd liner on top echelon club. Style – a young Rod Brind’Amour.

ISS: We love this kid and expect him to have a breakout year. A 17-year-old native of Mississauga, O'Marra has natural goal-scoring instincts and may possess the best shot in the draft. O'Marra elevated his game to another level in the playoffs which demonstrates an ability to rise to the occasion. Has ability to find a seam and get open for a laser shot...can score goals from anywhere on the ice...uses size and reach effectively. Plays an aggressive and physical game... a real team leader and a very talented player.

O’Marra was a key role-player on two gold-medal winning World Junior teams, but in his final junior season (2006-07) a broken ankle and knee injury limited his ice-time. Despite this, the Islanders were able to trade O’Marra to Edmonton as part of a package for pending-UFA Ryan Smyth.

Last season was a difficult one for O’Marra. The honour of being an ECHL all-star was likely overshadowed by the fact that he was, you know, playing in the ECHL. O’Marra managed nine points in 31 AHL games with Springfield. Kelly Buchberger made an interesting comment on the player:

“He looks OK, he sure works hard. You can use him in certain situations but I think he’s finding out that being a pro is harder than he thought it would be. His conditioning has gotten better, there’s no question.” (bolding mine)

A couple of days ago, I did a quality of opposition breakdown for the Springfield Falcons this season, and no regular forward had a lower ranking than Ryan O’Marra. Looking at who O’Marra’s playing with, he’s obviously been placed on the Falcon’s fourth line, and as a result he’s seeing fourth-line teammates and opponents.

This is at odds with what the organization has been saying through Kevin Prendergast. Back in November, Jason Gregor interviewed Prendergast, and Prendergast suggested “that O'Marra had endured a tough season one year ago because of injury but was coming along well on the checking line in Springfield and killing penalties to boot.” In December, Prendergast made similar comments in an interview with John Mackinnon. Here are the relevant quotes from the article:

In Ryan O'Marra's case, accepting the adjustment from first-line status in junior to third-line expectations as a pro has not been easy for the winger who came to the Oilers along with Robert Nilsson and a first-round draft choice in the Ryan Smyth trade on Feb. 27, 2007. "Here's a guy coming out of junior, a first-line guy, two gold medals (at the World Junior Hockey Championship), and he really had trouble adapting to the fact that, 'Hey, I'm a first-rounder, I was traded for Ryan Smyth, and they expect me to be a third-line player?' " Prendergast said. Prendergast believes O'Marra, who also was set back by a serious knee injury last season, has accepted that role and is making progress in Springfield this season.

I would very strongly suggest that Prendergast is selling spin in these two instances. While the quality of opposition study I used isn’t perfect (it’s based on the opponents point-per-game totals), it’s easily good enough to place a player in a ballpark. For Ryan O’Marra, that ballpark is an AHL fourth-line job, and that jives with the Buchberger comment above -- he’s being sheltered, even at the AHL level. He is providing grit (see here) but he isn’t scoring (five points in 28 games), isn’t shutting down top opponents, and is lugging around a -6 rating to boot. Last year he did the same thing, and wound up spending time in the ECHL because he wasn’t the best option for even AHL minutes.

Everything about O’Marra screams “character guy” –- every quote I’ve ever seen from hockey people (scouts, GMs, coaches, etc) says that this guy has the right attitude and is a natural leader. In every interview I’ve read with O’Marra, he’s said the right things, and hasn’t made excuses. He seems like a smart guy too -– he’s been taking correspondence courses through Athabasca University while playing hockey. It’s just too bad that his play has dropped off so much; if there isn’t a change, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that O’Marra won’t get a contract offer from the Oilers when his entry-level deal runs out next season.

Contract Status : $1.22M per season for 2008-09 and 2009-10.

AHL Performance Compares To : Wayne Primeau

Projection : Career minor-leaguer

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 MattL
January 04 2009, 10:26PM
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I'm always interested in how some hockey players seem to have a ceiling, for whatever reason, to their careers. Guys who can tear it up in junior, but have to play in Switzerland when they turn pro. Guys who can light it up in the AHL, but go all JFJ in the big show.

But then there is the occasional guy like Horcoff who defies explanation. Is it work ethic? Mental toughness to come back from setbacks/injuries? The Secret(c)?

I hope O'Marra can get it together though. If he had turned out the way he was advertised, he could have been exactly what the Oilers desperately need right now: a smart, character, penalty killing center. I'm pulling for the guy! Of course, if he wasn't part of the Smitty deal, I wouldn't give a flying fart.

Goiler Prospects!

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#2 jack bauer
January 05 2009, 01:21AM
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how does an AHL'er for life make 1.2 mil a season? That seems inaccurate.

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#3 Quain
January 05 2009, 08:34AM
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That's his entry-level NHL contract. The reason it's so high is because of the first round pick roster bonus, which doesn't kick in while he's in the AHL.

The bonus, for example, is also the reason Sam Gagner has a contract of $1.625M.

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#4 BUCK75
January 05 2009, 09:34AM
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It's too bad that he will forever be the "guy" we got for the Mullet...

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#5 Chris
January 05 2009, 10:00AM
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Nilsson...O'Marra...What is up with Islander scouting?

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#6 Hanson#4
January 05 2009, 12:54PM
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I remember seeing O'Marra at the World Junior and I was impressed. Enough so that I thought he was the key guy from the Oilers Smyth deal. From the WJC he seemed like an ideal 3rd line, win faceoffs, kill penalties, big hit kind of player. (Ironically the exact player type the Oilers could use right now ! Right hand shot also !)

So I am rooting for him. But at the end of the day it is a results based business.

"Hey, I’m a first-rounder, I was traded for Ryan Smyth, and they expect me to be a third-line player" This comment is interesting and suggests Ryan needs a reality check. One way might be if Oilers see some meaningless games down the stretch (naturally because they have secured a playoff spot !) insert Ryan and play him like Stoll: second line, lots of defensive draws and penalty killing / power play action (not on the point mind you). Either way it will be a test to the ego sort of like being thrown to the sharks. (In fact San Jose would be the perfect opponent for the O'Marra reality check !) Either he learns to swim really fast or realizes that he was not ready to go into the water.

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#7 Jonathan Willis
January 06 2009, 01:24PM
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@ Hanson#4:

But why would they do that when he hasn't even shown an ability to handle that assignment at the AHL level?

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