The Edmonton Oilers have signed center Ryan O’Marra to a contract. There was some speculation that the club would turn their back on him this year and go in a new direction.
It is a very tough sell. Why would the Oilers sign O’Marra and let Marc Pouliot go? Why would they retain O’Marra and cut loose Robert Nilsson?
Let’s see if we can build a case.
Ryan O’Marra’s minor league career could best be described by Santo & Johnny’s Sleep Walk through Christmas 2008. We’ve discussed him a few times on this blog (click on ‘O’Marra’ below) and by math or by “saw him good” this was not the player the Islanders drafted in 2005 (EDM would select Andrew Cogliano 10 slots later).
It appears his turnaround began when the (since departed) Rob Daum arrived in Springfield. O’Marra: “I was drafted by New York (Islanders), and when I first joined their Bridgeport club two years ago, I was playing first line and on the power play. It’s different for me now. I started this season as a fourth-line guy, with a role that wasn’t really defined. That made it hard to find a rhythm. (When Daum arrived) He took me aside and outlined the steps I’d have to take. He put me on a checking line, and I was able to relax and play. I’m more of a defensive centerman now.”
So, we can give credit to O’Marra for embracing a role that Pouliot rejected and that Nilsson could not fill. Guy Flaming (as always) has a terrific article that includes a couple of money quotes from Daum on O’Marra’s development.
His most recent season is easily his best statistically. O’Marra went 2-0-2 on the PK, 1-0-1 on the PP and 9-6-15 at equal strength (in 74 games). His AHL career numbers before this past season were 101gp, 7-17-24. This was an improvement. What other numbers should we consider? 6.02, 208.
His plus minus (-19) was third-worst among regular forwards, although we should give him (and Colin McDonald, -25) some credit for playing on the checking line and against some of the AHL’s better players (anecdotal evidence, nothing available via math).
I don’t have any idea why the Oilers cut loose Pouliot and Nilsson and kept O’Marra, save for the fact they wanted a fresh start, bigger players with grit and that O’Marra has indeed shown some improvement. He does not appear to be the same calibre player as the two first round picks who were sent away, but it looks like O’Marra will get a chance to prove us wrong.
Here’s hoping he does it.