According to NHL.com, Linus Omark stands 5’10” tall and weighs 174 pounds. Through the first 35 games of his NHL career, he has scored a grand total of three goals and along the way has also chalked up a minus-11 rating. Those aren’t marks of a player bound for a long and happy career as a top-six forward at the NHL level.
However, despite those superficially disappointing numbers, I think the Oilers have themselves a player in Linus Omark.
There are a few different things about Omark that make me think he could have a successful career as a scorer at the NHL level.
Even-strength Scoring. Looking at the even-strength scoring (adjusted for ice-time) leaders on this Edmonton Oilers team, we get the following:
- Ales Hemsky: 2.88 PTS/60
- Linus Omark: 2.17 PTS/60
- Jordan Eberle: 2.16 PTS/60
- Sam Gagner: 1.96 PTS/60
- Taylor Hall: 1.78 PTS/60
- Shawn Horcoff: 1.60 PTS/60
Omark’s 2.17 PTS/60 is a very strong scoring number, for any team. Looking at the top Western teams, it would be the fourth-best number in either Detroit or Vancouver; the second-best number in San Jose. There’s no problem with his offensive production five-on-five.
Shooting Percentage. There is a lot of evidence that suggests Omark is a high-percentage shooter. This season in the AHL, he was putting pucks past goaltenders at a remarkable 20.0% clip. In 2009-10, he had another very good shooting percentage year, at 19.0%. I don’t have shooting percentage data for Omark’s 2008-09 season in Sweden, but his 23 goals in 53 games tied him for fifth in the Elitserien. In short: in three of the world’s four best hockey leagues, Linus Omark is a sniper.
So far this season, Omark has just three goals on 53 shots (corrected – thanks Sum). Among Oilers forwards with at least one goal this season, that 5.7% clip puts him ahead of just Colin Fraser (4.7%). I would argue that this state of affairs is highly unlikely to last, and that we’ll see Omark score with far greater frequency going forward. I simply cannot picture a player with Omark’s track record continuing to score at a clip that would make most fourth-liners blush.
Advanced statistics. I know that many people put very little stock in things like Corsi numbers, but Omark is doing very, very well in terms of the shot metrics. The opposition averages just 24.9 shots for every sixty minutes of even-strength ice-time that Omark plays – that’s a better number than that posted by any full-season Oiler. No Oilers player is on the ice for more shots for than against at even-strength, but Omark comes closest: 24.8 shots for per 60, 24.9 shots against.
Why then does he have an ugly plus/minus number? On-ice save percentage. When Omark is on the ice at even-strength, his goaltenders have a save percentage of just 0.864. That’s a really, really, bad number, and unlikely to be caused by Omark: after all, he’s just one of 11 players (five opposition skaters, five Oilers skaters, one goaltender) to have an influence on that number. History shows us that these things rarely repeat from year to year; for instance last year’s goat was Shawn Horcoff (0.891 on-ice save percentage) and this year he has the best number of any of Edmonton’s top-nine forwards (0.936). If we assumed Horcoff was responsible for his on-ice save percentage number, than we would be arguing that he’s nearly twice as good at preventing goals this year as he was last year (10.9 vs. 6.4 goals against per 100 shots against), something that’s almost certainly not true. Bottom line: Omark’s plus/minus is at least partially illusory, and we shouldn’t put too much stock in it.
Naturally, it isn’t all roses when we talk about Omark’s performance. The player has a bit of a mouth on him, and we’ve seen how that can cost players in Edmonton. No matter how well he plays, he’s still itty-bitty by NHL standards. His power play numbers so far have not been particularly good, although I’d argue that his performance on the unit has not been all that bad (and he is spending a lot of time on the point, which can make a forward’s power play numbers look worse than they are).
Still, despite all that, Omark’s shown enough to get a longer stint. The Oilers have a long, slow rebuilding process ahead of them, and given that they almost certainly aren’t looking for a playoff spot next season, there’s no reason for them not to be patient with their diminutive winger. It could very well pay off in the long run.