Hartikainen versus Omark?

The last couple of weeks have been tough for Teemu Hartikainen when it comes to the Oilers depth chart. Steve Tambellini added Ryan Smyth, Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk to the depth chart–which already included phenoms Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi and might also include Ryan Jones.

The question is: can Hartikainen pass enough people to play 50 games in the NHL this season with the Edmonton Oilers.

The answer is: yes.

When Tambellini added Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk on free agent day, he was adding size, grit and an enforcer to the top 12; he was also adding Hordichuk for the pressbox. Hordichuk is about what the Oilers wanted Jason Strudwick to be the last couple of seasons: a depth player who won’t bitch and moan on the 40-50 nights that he’s not in the lineup.

If we look at the current wingers, like this:

  1. Taylor Hall
  2. Ales Hemsky
  3. Ryan Smyth
  4. Jordan Eberle
  5. Magnus Paajarvi
  6. Linus Omark
  7. Ben Eager
  8. Ryan Jones
  9. Darcy Hordichuk

Hartikainen needs to move past one player on the depth chart in order to make the team (aside from Hordichuk who’ll be a bench warmer along with a depth center–someone like O’Marra). Gilbert Brule is also in the mix, but I get the feeling the Oilers are hesitant to count on him again after he missed so much time a year ago. Andrew Cogliano could also move to wing, but again one gets the feeling the Oilers are moving in another direction.

That direction is size. That direction will benefit  Teemu Hartikainen. In order for Hartikainen to find his way to Edmonton, he’ll need to pass a winger whose skills are duplicated by others on the roster and whose size/toughness will be viewed as a negative. I think Hartikainen stands a very good chance of passing Linus Omark either during training camp or during the season. I’m a big fan of both, but don’t believe anyone can reasonably argue that Hartikainen is in the same league as Omark.

In choosing to single out Omark, I would point you to possible lines with Hartakainen in the group:

  1. Hall-Eberle
  2. Smyth-Hemsky
  3. Hartikainen-Paajarvi
  4. Eager-Jones

Steve Tambellini has talked at length about team toughness, about a shared responsibility. The group above features a winger with decent to good size on each line, and some gumption too. Omark’s considerable skills are somewhat duplicated in this group and the Oilers have all kinds of options.

Tom Renney was part of the coaching group that decided to roll JF Jacques on the 1line in the fall of 2009; the appeal of “crust” is a mighty force for NHL coaches, and I can see Teemu Hartikainen winning the day during training camp with his skill set.

The Oilers options on Omark could be trade or another trip to OKC. I don’t think it’s wise, and hope it doesn’t happen, but this organization’s attention to size and desire to add truculence put Omark in some danger on this roster. It may not be Hartikainen–Cogliano or Brule may force the issue at his position.

Last August, I wrote the following:

  • If I were Linus Omark I’d ask to dress in the Oilers-Canucks tilt September 22, find the tallest tree wearing that weird uniform and take a run at him. As crazy as it sounds, getting noticed early might be the key element for Linus Omark this fall.

This fall might be more of the same. Bias against size is difficult to overcome, but playing manic is one way to grab attention away from it. I’m pulling for Linus Omark; I believe he’s an outstanding hockey player and we could be looking at an exceptional talent, better even than some of the vaunted kids. I’m not sure the Oilers feel that way, and a team that values skill and talent more than size–like Detroit–might swoop in and grab him when no one is looking.

It would be a shame. That Ryan Jones contract could have enormous impact.

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