The Oilers have now passed the trade deadline, are well out of the playoffs, and the final 20 games of the season (starting tonight) don’t really have a lot of meaning at the team level. They’re likely to get a high draft pick, but outside of that the games left are pretty much meaningless from a team perspective.
On the individual level, things are different. Aside from the guys definitely in the plans, and the guys definitely out of them, there are a range of players either hoping to return to the team or land an NHL job elsewhere. It’s a time that can be used to make decisions on a range of players. One of those players should be Linus Omark.
Linus Omark is 25 years old, and in his seventh professional season. He’s also a restricted free agent at season’s end, which may not mean a lot for the typical North American player (since they’re likely to return on a two-way contract if that’s what it takes), but certainly does have meaning for Omark. Omark can make serious money in a place like the KHL – he already has, for one season – and the option of a guaranteed job in Europe for top dollar is bound to have appeal when compared to another two-way contract.
For the Oilers, there’s another issue. Edmonton is loaded to the gills with good young forwards, and while one or more may eventually be moved for defensive help, at the moment the prospects of guys on the outside – Omark especially, though one could also make a case for Magnus Paajarvi – is open to debate.
In short, this summer represents something of a crossroads, for both the player and the organization. Does Omark fit into the long-term plans?
Now would probably be a good time to find out. Omark’s been injured for much of the season, but he’s knocking at the door now. He’s been shooting more since coming back from injury (in the seven games prior to getting hurt in the AHL he had 10 shots; in the eight games since he has 22), and is averaging a goal every second game in the minors. He also earned praise from the organization for his work in the gym while injured, something Senior Director of Player Development Billy Moores told Bruce McCurdy:
He’s worked very hard during that injury time to get himself in real good condition and get stronger, so that’s real valuable. Credit to him for using that time properly. Now he’s got an opportunity to play with us tonight and in Abbotsford and get going. There’s still lots of hockey to be played.”
While everyone in the organization undoubtedly wants to see the farm team do well for the rest of the year, now seems like an optimum time to give Omark a chance on a skilled line. In the best-case scenario, he does very well, either giving the Oilers the necessary incentive to offer him a one-way deal this summer, or boosting his stock enough to make him worth trading at the NHL Draft. In the worst case scenario, he drops off the map, and the Oilers can feel more comfortable about writing him out of the long-term picture.
Either way, the team should try and get an answer with the time that’s left in the season. We know that Omark’s a very good player below the NHL; he’s shown that time and again. For a player with his age and experience, all that remains to be seen is whether he’s a fit in the majors, and that question will only be answered with major-league experience. Unless the Oilers have already made a decision, now’s the time to find out.