What the Hell?

Ryan O’Marra is enjoying a nice run with the Edmonton Oilers currently. Last night he scored his first NHL goal and any reasonable “saw him good” estimate would have him ahead of Colin Fraser.

Math is not a friend to Ryan O’Marra. His pro-level boxcars are as frightening as Ernest Borgnine in front of a camera. In 2 and a half AHL seasons (entering this one) he’s scored 19 goals and is a -44.

What can’t be denied is that O’Marra looks better by eye and number than at any time since he was acquired from the Islanders. How could this be? It’s sample size,  right? Was there an injury in there no one told us about? Attitude problem? Bad linemates?

What the hell is going on?

Back at the beginning, Ryan O’Marra was a very famous prospect. Redline report loved him, and called him a young Rod Brind’Amour just about the same time as they called Gilbert Brule a more skilled version of Gilbert Brule. Here’s the complete Redline love-in:

  • A RLR favorite. Can do it all. Very good skater with excellent, crisp edges, particularly for a big man. Works well in all three zones and is very smart positionally- knows where to be on the ice. Smart, heady player with good hands and a nose for the net. Has pro size and plays a ppro style game. Very willing to battle physically and can be dominant below the circles. Dangerous on both special teams, and uses his long reach effectively on PK unit to break up passes and transition to offence. Has very good offensive upside. Versatile, equally adept in the middle and on the wing. Gets to the net for scoring chances. Excelled in international competitions. Hasn’t learned to bring it every night as of yet; needs to develop consistency, but is determined and motivated.Projection: Versatile 2nd liner on top echelon club. Style- a young Rod Brind’Amour.

That’s a splendid scouting report there, if the Oilers drafted a guy next summer with that resume I’d drive you crazy by Christmas raving about him (by the way, Riley Nash is 31gp, 7-10-17 +8 after a very slow start). When Kevin Lowe acquired O’Marra, I thought they were getting a solid prospect who certainly addressed a need (big two way RH center).

Initially, there were worries over injuries; O’Marra broke his ankle September 16, 2006 and then much later in the season (I believe late April) a knee injury cost him the rest of the season. His numbers for 06-07 were 46gp, 26-25-51 in the OHL. The 07-08 season must have been a humiliation, because O’Marra spent much of the season in Stockton (ECHL) were he dominated miles from the racetrack for true blue chippers. His AHL time that season was notable in that he didn’t get much done offensively. I think we can probably attritbute some of the difficulty to the ankle and knee injuries.

2008-09 was a lost season for him. Stuck at the bottom of the AHL depth chart on a horrible, horrible team, O’Marra managed just 1 goal in 62 league games. The Oilers verbal during this time was very positive, but we came to know that Kevin Prendergast was slightly more positive than Mohandas with his scouting reports. Rob Daum took little time in identifying him as a “3rd line checker” and that’s the role he’s been trying to fill for the last couple of seasons.

I think the turnaround for O’Marra probably had a lot to do with Rob Daum. Remember the old Marc Pouliot quotes about not accepting the “Guy Carbonneau” role on the team? I think Daum found a way to make O’Marra a useful hockey player.

  • 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.”

The results started to show last season (09-10) when he scored 12 goals in the AHL, improved his plus minus markedly and then made his first appearance in the NHL. This season he’s been even better in the AHL (22gp,  1-13-14 +11) and at age 23 looks like he’s taking advantage of an opportunity.

There were signs this could happen. In mid-September, I wrote an article for ON that suggested he was in the mix for an NHL job:

  • Oilers love his skill set as it perfectly fits the current need: a checking C with some grit. I question his ability to hit above the Mendoza line offensively but the club likes him and there’s a solid chance he makes the team.

I ranked him 5th on the C depth chart, behind Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano and Fraser. A week later I suggested O’Marra would make the opening night roster (here) which caused a conversation among media men at the Joey Moss.

O’Marra’s opportunity at training camp (and on the current roster) is enormous. It’s like being the only guy on an island with 10,000 beautiful women: no matter how bad your verbal or what you look like, opportunity is going to knock.

IS he any good? I’ve suggested all down the line that O’Marra is unlikely to hit above the Mendoza line. His career stats have never suggested a scoring forward and his pro stats have been subpar to poor. I suggested during the reasonable expectations series that O’Marra would spend some time with the big club this season and he’s doing well so far.

I don’t think we can count on him. He wasn’t part of the top 20 prospect list (he did make the list winter 2007) because he will eventually get passed by the group that includes Lander, Vande Velde and Pitlick. However, Steve Tambellini’s choice for the 3-4 line C roles (Cogliano, Fraser) have opened the door and with management unwilling to address in-season holes O’Marra has miles of open road and can take it to the limit.

I’m cheering like hell for Ryan O’Marra. If he can fill that 3line RH C role and chip in 10 goals a season the Oilers will be better than they are now. I think they’ll replace him eventually–he’s not playing the tough minutes–but his 5×5/60 looks good this morning and he scored his first NHL goal last night. We have plenty of time to talk about sample size, etc down the line.

For now, it’s enough that the young man has taken advantage of the opportunity.

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