Martin St. Louis is one of the true feel-good stories in recent NHL history. The pint-sized forward overcame adversity – in the form of near-total disinterest from NHL clubs – before going on to be both the league MVP and leading scorer prior to the NHL lockout.
St. Louis went the U.S college route, and despite being a major impact player during his time at the University of Vermont, he was passed over by every NHL team at the entry draft. In 1997-98, he turned professional, earning a training camp tryout with Ottawa. The Senators didn’t like him and let him go, so St. Louis signed with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the IHL.
After putting up 50 points in 56 games in the old IHL, the Calgary Flames came calling, signing St. Louis in February of 1998. Over 2-1/2 seasons in the Flames organization, St. Louis put up the following totals in the AHL and NHL:
- AHL: 95GP – 58G – 56A – 114PTS
- NHL: 69GP – 4G – 16A – 20PTS
For many organizations, a big-time AHL scorer putting up just four goals in 69 NHL games would be proof positive that said scorer would never really put up numbers in the big leagues. Calgary certainly felt that way; they let St. Louis go, Tampa Bay signed him, and as they say the rest is history. We know now that Calgary should have looked at St. Louis’ shooting percentage (4.6% at the NHL level, brilliant in college and the minors) and given him another opportunity, but they didn’t. St. Louis, incidentally, would score four goals against Calgary in the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, including the overtime winner in Game Six that prevented Calgary from winning the series at home.
Comparing Linus Omark to Martin St. Louis’ later career is a big stretch. No such stretch is required to compare Omark’s current career with St. Louis’ at the same age. St. Louis was 25 years old when he left the Flames’ organization; Omark will turn 25 next month. Here are his numbers in the NHL and AHL:
- AHL: 35GP – 15G – 23A – 38PTS
- NHL: 56GP – 5G – 22A – 27PTS
Like St. Louis, Omark was not a top draft prospect – he was taken late as an overager by the Oilers. Like St. Louis, Omark has a great offensive track record, in Europe as opposed to the U.S college system. Like St. Louis, Omark’s NHL numbers suffer from a poor shooting percentage (6.0%) despite a track record of being a quality shooter everywhere else he’s played.
Despite this connection that I’m drawing, I’m not saying Omark is or will ever be Martin St. Louis. Martin St. Louis at 25 was a much different player than Martin St. Louis at 28, and there’s no question his game improved during that span. Additionally, St. Louis was undeniably an outlier – there aren’t many legitimate offensive talents who haven’t established themselves in the big leagues by the age of 25, and most guys who are top minor-league scorers at that age stay top minor-league scorers for most of their career.
With that said, I think a decision to part with Omark – either at the trade deadline, something that seems unlikely given his injury, or this summer when his entry-level contract expires – would be a mistake at this juncture. There are literally years of evidence suggesting that he could be a big-time scorer. His assist totals project to a reasonable level over a full season (32) and there’s good reason to believe his goal-scoring is not nearly as bad as it has looked at the NHL level.
Given where the Oilers are, patience with Omark is particularly advisable. This isn’t a team on the verge of the playoffs, a team likely to contend seriously next season. This team has been destroyed and is only now in the process of trying to rise from the league basement. If Omark can be a scorer going forward, they should find out as soon as possible.