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