It’s Past Time to Recall Linus Omark

There is a one-line argument against recalling Linus Omark. It goes like this: he’s a small winger whose primary ability lies in the offensive zone, and the Oilers are a team in need of big wingers who play a solid defensive game.

It doesn’t matter. It’s past time to bring him up.

The Left Wing Depth Chart

Let’s have a gander at the Oilers’ left wing depth chart from last night’s 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

On the top line we have Ryan Jones. Jones is an NHL everyman – he can score a bit, hit a bit, kill penalties, and while he isn’t big he isn’t small either. He’s a very good fourth-liner, by which I mean he’s the kind of player who excels in a fourth line role and can step into the top-nine once injuries start hitting.

Nail Yakupov, a natural right wing, played on the second line with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. I like Yakupov a lot as a player, and despite a slow start I’m not particularly worried that he’s the next Patrik Stefan. Initially, I thought playing him at left wing made a lot of sense – he’s a left-handed shot after all, and the team had and has a need at the position. These days, I subscribe to the idea that the best place for Yakupov to find his game is where he’s found it in the past and where he feels most comfortable: on right wing. I also subscribe to the notion that the Oilers need a productive Yakupov at right wing more than they need an unproductive Yakupov at left wing.

A 28-year-old minor-league journeyman fresh off injury filled the third line left wing spot last night. I know that Ryan Hamilton has a history with Dallas Eakins, and more importantly still I know he’s 6’2” tall and weighs 219 pounds. Those virtues do not suffice to explain why a guy with no history of being an NHL player and coming off a long time on injured reserve to boot is getting a top-nine job.

Finally, fourth on the left wing depth chart is Luke Gazdic. The Oilers get out-shot by a ridiculous rate with Gazdic on the ice; but fortunately for him his plus/minus doesn’t reflect that reality because the goalies have turned aside all 37 shots they’ve seen with him on the ice. That doesn’t change the fact that Gazdic is on the ice to hit and to fight rather than because of his ability to score or prevent goals. The argument about whether that sort of role player is an effective part of an NHL team is for another day; suffice to say for now that he isn’t a credible option above line four.

Meanwhile, in the minors

I understand that Linus Omark is a flawed player. I get why, on a healthy Oilers roster, he isn’t a fit – and by that I mean not only do I grasp the argument, I agree with it.

But when the situation changes, things must be reassessed. We have already seen the most cogent argument in favour of Omark right now – the Oilers’ emaciated left wing group. But there’s more. Omark currently leads the Barons with 12 points in 12 games, and he’s producing under some difficult circumstances.

Last night, for example, Omark played on Oklahoma’s top line with C.J. Stretch (an ECHL find last year) and first-year professional Andrew Miller. He typically played against either one or the other of the Chicago Wolves top-two lines – both of which were loaded to the gills with players with NHL experience. The Barons got scoring from all over, but won the game mostly because Omark was able to drive his line to 20-7 shots/missed shots advantage at even-strength.

Omark’s own scoring has been hit-and-miss – a four-point game here, a four-goal game there – but the constant is that his line has generated scoring chances.

Omark is not going to play the heavy game the Oilers would love to see from their next call-up, but then Luke Gazdic and Ben Eager (or, for that matter, Kale Kessy) will and arguing for anyone in that group to get a promotion is crazy. Overall play counts for something, too, and it’s something the Oilers have lacked that Omark can give them.

What I’d “Like” To See

It seems obvious that the Oilers’ forward lineup is going to be a mess until such time as the injury brigade gets back. Taylor Hall and David Perron and Ryan Smyth, not Linus Omark, are the solution to the Oilers’ left wing problems. Until those players return, the Oilers’ lines are going to be ugly.

In the meantime, though, I think the best deployment of personnel probably looks something like this (ordered by quality of competition):

1. Ales Hemsky – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle. The Oilers don’t really have a power-vs.-power line; Taylor Hall or David Perron is needed to give them one. Of the bad available choices, though, Ales Hemsky seems like the best fit. He’s had the power-vs.-power job before, he’s a veteran guy, and he actually looked pretty good when Tom Renney spotted him here back in 2011-12.

2. Ryan Jones – Boyd Gordon – Mark Arcobello. The Oilers’ don’t really have the pieces for a strong defensive “third” line either. Gordon is a fit as that line’s centre, Arcobello gives the line a second faceoff man, and while Jones isn’t an ideal fit he’s been okay in previous incarnations of this line (the Smyth – Horcoff – Jones trio doing a nice job at points).

3. Linus Omark – Sam Gagner – Nail Yakupov. I know. This is an all-offence line, geared toward offensive zone starts and deployed against the other team’s bottom-six. It gives Yakupov a chance to play offensive minutes at his natural position, Gagner a chance to ease back into the lineup and both of them a third player in Omark who can help drive offensive results.

The comments section may disagree, and honestly I’m not wild about it myself: there’s no combination of forwards that I particularly like right now for the Oilers. But what I do think is that regardless of how the lines are arranged, Linus Omark stands a better chance of getting the job done in the top nine than a couple of players the Oilers currently have there and a far better chance than any of the potential fourth-line promotions.

Even if it’s something as simple as sticking Omark in the Jones’ slot on the top line, bumping Jones down to the Gordon line and sending Hamilton to Oklahoma on a conditioning stint, I think the Oilers are better off with the guy who is driving results in Oklahoma than they are with the current crop of candidates.

  • Hemmercules

    An Omark-Yak-Gagner line would be comedy. Might as well put Petry and Smid out there with them and see how many odd man rushes they can give up in one shift.

    Watching Ference in his post game interview the other night was so depressing, you could just see the horror is his eyes knowing he has to play the rest of the season in that blue and orange jersey (at lest until the deadline when they inevitably trade him).

  • vetinari

    I think that part of the reason why everyone is so p!ssed-off at management and the team is because we expected Yakupov’s draft year to be “rock bottom” of the rebuild and we would start to climb 3-4 positions in the standings each year until we became a playoff team.

    Last year, under Krueger (and without a training camp), we did show a modest improvement in the standings. This year, we found a way to erase our previous modest gains, dynamite the rock floor and sink to a new level of incompetence.

    And I have to say that this year’s Flames reminds me of the spunky teams that we used to ice in the late ’90s and early ’00s– a blue collar team with no quit that relished being the underdogs and proving people wrong.

    After we cleared out the Jason Smith’s, the Fernando Pisani’s and the Ethan Moreau’s, we forgot to replace them with players that had drive, pride and attitude.

    It seems that with our current team, if the goals don’t come easy within the first 10 minutes of a game, they give up and coast for the last 50 minutes, hoping to get out of the arena alive and unnoticed.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– we don’t need an enforcer to scare the other team– we need one that will scare our players into playing like they give a damn, every shift.

  • oilerjed

    There is suddenly alot of talk of rifts in the locker room. IMO that is reading more into Smid and Ference’s quotes then is there. Seems more like the young guys are just not getting the point quick enough more then a Socs and Greaser sort of thing. On at least three goals VS Det when they show the endzone replay you can count at least 3 forwards coasting through the neutral zone.

    DE has not had much to work with this year due to injury, but his decisions on player usage and line combos has definetly been suspect. Not advocating for a coaching change but I am advocating for a change of coaching. A NHL coach should be able to make adjsutments to team play on the fly when things clearly are not working. DE has shown himself to be uber relcutant to try anything different in the face of failure. Do the players need to buy, ABSOLUTELY. Does the coach need to recognize a failure of a system, ABSOLUTELY.

  • oilerjed

    I ask this… with Hall inj’d who on the current Oiler lineup competes as hard as Omark does/did? And if you only brought him back to trade him for something.. then SHOWCASE him for F$#*K sakes!!

  • oilerjed

    Plus I would have like to be in the oilers dressing room after Saturdays game. Did anyone else notice a visibly Pissed Eakins taking off his jacket and loosening his tye as he was leaving the bench. Looked like he was in the mood to pummel someone.

  • S cottV

    Looks like Eakins has backed off on the swarm defensive system, which is good news. The bad part – it is one of the big reasons for the hole that the Oilers find themselves in. Further – a rookie Coach had to back off his much hyped system, further eroding player confidence in him. The killer in the Red Wing game was an awful shift by Petry. A top 2 d man or any d man cannot take an “all in” chance on a bouncing puck with an opposition forward behind him. Then – Eakins leaves him out (a bad decision in hindsight) and Petry throws a tentative lame duck ugly pass up the middle creating an immediate and dangerous counter attack. Back checking forwards add to the gaffe by looking at the puck and not picking up the Red Wing trailer. A bad start was the last thing this depleted and demoralized group needed but at least it had nothing to do with continuance of the swarm. If the losing continues – what the heck is MacT going to do with his Coach? Get behind the bench and provide hands on mentoring? Ugly spot to be in, that just seems to keep getting uglier…

  • Spydyr

    The Oilers have painted themselves into a corner with Omark. How do you call up a guy that you didn’t want to keep and weren’t planning to do anything more with than hopefully convince someone to take him off your hands at the trade deadline or draft?

    The Oilers’ adventures with Omark – or his with the Oilers – is actually pretty interesting.

    He had a reputation before he arrived and when he got here, he arrived with a flourish. For a little while, he looked like a poor-man’s Sedin – decent at cycling on the boards and talented in-close and on the half-boards on the power play. He was a quirky teammate – kinda weird (remember the Swedish video of him sitting on the toilet at the party?) and probably a bit selfish, although not petulant.

    He’s skilled, but probably not top-six-skilled on most teams. He had a great year last year in Europe, but had no takers for him (or presumably no takers for him at MacT’s asking price). So he gets re-signed by the Oilers … for some reason … either to score or sell tickets in OKC, or to help develop some trade value for him at the NHL level. Now, he’s having a decent-to-great year in the AHL and the NHL team is floundering on the ice, all while suffering with depth/injury problems at the very position he plays. He was never in the plans, realistically, for the parent club but a funny thing happened on the way to a 3-10 record.

    Before you put me in the certain percentage of the Oiler fandom that had an infatuation with Robbie Schremp a few years ago, it’s really not the same situation at all.

    This isn’t the spin-o-rama shootout Omark of three years ago we’re talking about. If Omark was on any other NHL system right now, he’d be an automatic call-up if the parent team was as bad/injured as the Oilers are. This should be a no-brainer. But like many things this year, the Oilers are screwing that up, too.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Spyders list should have read

    “Young Small Skilled” players…..

    The key variable being “Young”

    There’s a good chance that the Oilers rebuild will serve as model for how NOT to rebuild.

    Too many young players added to the roster in too short a period of time.