Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is Linus Omark the next Michael Grabner?

Picture this:  A European player is drafted by an NHL team.  He spends the age 19-22 seasons in lower hockey leagues, but performs excellently in them.  Finally he gets a chance in the big show, and in fact, in the small sample size, performs very solidly - not putting up numbers like a star, but putting up a decent number of points while being a very solid possession player. 

However, his team tires of him for some reason or another, and he performs poorly in training camp/preseason in his next NHL shot.  As a result of his poor performance in camp, the European is waived - unthinkable to fans who remember him as a pretty good prospect of the team. 

Sound familiar?  That MIGHT sound like the story of Linus Omark, the Oilers prospect who was just waived today.  But that IS the story of Michael Grabner, the Islander who was waived by the Florida Panthers after a horrible camp in 2010-2011, after being basically included as a throw-in in a trade by the Canucks the offseason before. 

Grabner of course, would put up solid possession #s, good Penalty killing #s, and 34 goals (the most for an nhl rookie) in that very same season he was waived in camp.  While he's certainly not a star, he's definitely a pretty good player at this point and it seems extremely weird to think of him being given away for free by the Panthers. 

Linus Omark is not the same type of player as Michael Grabner.  Grabner played multiple seasons in the AHL as a fairly good goal scorer (30 goals in 08-09, on pace for 30 goals in 09-10 had he played a full AHL season); Omark has played overseas instead and, while playing very successfully in Sweden, the KHL, the Swiss league, and hell even a tiny bit in the AHL, is much more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. 

Yet their stories are very very similar.  Omark has been successful in every league but the NHL, and even had one NHL season where he played quite well - just like Grabner had 20 games in Vancouver where his performance was quite solid.  And now Omark has been waived because he had a horrible training camp/preseason and the Oilers don't seem to think he belongs on the roster.

The Grabner story makes me wonder if this is a really stupid mistake.  Don't get me wrong, I don't disbelieve that Omark has been bad in camp/preseason.  Even the shot numbers, as quoted by Michael Parmatti in this tweet, suggest his performance in the games has been poor.  And training camp/preseason should be a place - small sample as it is - to evaluate players as they fit on your team.
But it should be FAR from the end-all-be-all.  Grabner probably did have a bad training camp with the Panthers that year when he was waived - he certainly looked poor his first few games with the Isles.   But the Isles could afford to keep him on that year and eventually the guy who played well enough in lower leagues played excellently in the big leagues.  And certainly the Panthers could've afforded to be patient that year too - that wasn't exactly a loaded team.  A bad training camp can sometimes mean that a guy just got off to a bad start - it doesn't mean he's necessarily unable to handle the NHL for your team.  If your team can afford patience with such a player - either because you're loaded at other positions or because you're so bare bones that you need lots of scrappy forwards - why not take a chance on a guy who has good #s before the preseason?

Now look at the Oilers.  The forward line is a mess due to injuries and well....roster management.  Their current likely wings include: Jesse Joensuu, Ryan Smyth, Ryan Hamilton, Steve MacIntyre, Ryan Jones, and Mike Brown - with Joesnuu somehow a possibility for 2nd line wing.  Are you saying that the Oilers could be worse with Omark in there instead of any of those guys?  Omark outproduced Joensuu in the AHL in the limited time the two were both in that league, for instance. 

I suspect the Oilers will luck out and teams will continue to ignore solid players/prospects who are waived - Keith Aucoin for one just cleared waivers after a very capable season as the Isles' 3rd line center (why the Oilers didn't claim Aucoin who would fit one of their needs incredibly well, I have no idea).  But the Omark situation shows that a team is placing way too much emphasis on a training camp that is only 3 weeks long instead of a history that is years of success.  When a team can afford to play the long game, there's no excuse for that.  And that will hurt the Oilers' attempts to climb back into relevance.