O'Marra's stock takes a tumble
Former first-round draft picks hopes to revive career after two dismal seasons
By Jim Matheson, Edmonton JournalSeptember 16, 2009
How did it get so far off the rails for Ryan O'Marra, who played in two world junior hockey championships for Canada, the last one with current Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews as his linemate?
How did a kid who was traded for Ryan Smyth and was supposed to have lots of game in junior and wore the "C" on his jersey, get to where he was scratched for 20 games last season with the Springfield Falcons in the American Hockey League?
What happened to the 15th player taken in the 2005 NHL draft, nine spots ahead of St. Louis Blues forward T. J. Oshie--who might make the 2010 U. S. Olympic team--and 10 before the Edmonton Oilers called out the name of O'Marra's world junior teammate Andrew Cogliano? How did it get to where he scored one goal in 62 games with the Falcons?
He's big (207 pounds), has fairly nice hands and never had a reputation in junior as a guy who avoided traffic, yet he has three goals and 18 points in 93 AHL games.
While the Oilers see O'Marra as a shutdown-type centre with some edge (he had 149 penalty minutes one season in junior), you still have to score a little. Three goals and 19 points are the kind of numbers sluggers put up.
O'Marra, who turned 22 in June, has so much ground to cover, there are no guarantees he'll even play in Springfield because the Falcons have lots of forwards. He may have to play in Stockton in the East Coast Hockey League.
"I have to kick my career back into gear ... it's been two dismal seasons," said O'Marra. "I have a chance to make a new first impression with a different set of coaches here, and even though Rob Daum came in halfway through last year, it's nice to have a clean slate there(Springfield) to show a different side of me."
How bad was it for O'Marra last year?Defenceman Bryan Young, the ultimate stay-at-home guy who may play in tonight's exhibition game against the New York Islanders, had three goals. Tough guy Guillaume Lefebvre scored four goals and had more points (13-10), playing eight more games (70 to 62).
Were there nights when he wanted to bang his head on the crossbar because he was so flummoxed with the puck on his stick?
"Yeah, when I missed three open nets in the span of three games. ... I was snakebit like I've never been in my entire life," said O'Marra, who actually had four goals in only eight games with Bridgeport, the Islanders'AHL farm club, in 2006 after his OHL junior season ended in Erie.
Obviously, this isn't where O'Marra thought he'd be today? How did it get to this?
"You ask that question a lot," he admitted. "I try not to think about it too much. It's very disheartening. I'm just trying to keep my head down and work hard. I'm only 22 years old. I'm trying to focus on having a good season and, hopefully, things will fall into place."
The Oilers asked for forward Kyle Okposo in the deal for Smyth but got a firm no, so went for the package of Robert Nilsson, a first-round draft (they took defenceman Alex Plante) and O'Marra. They didn't consider O'Marra a stocking stuffer in the package. He was good, but they have never given him any special treatment because of who he was.
"They made it very clear to me that it didn't matter if I was a first-round pick ... they made a point of telling me I wouldn't be getting anything (different treatment than other kids)," said O'Marra. "It didn't matter to them that I was traded for Ryan Smyth. That's the way this organization works. Players earn their ice-time. I don't, but hopefully this year I do."
"In world juniors, I played more of a defensive, physical role ... that's the aspect the Oilers liked the most. They asked me to do that at the next level, and that's the American Hockey League. Rightly or wrongly, I haven't earned the right to play on a nightly basis," said O'Marra.
O'Marra was also a linemate of Cogliano's when he played in the world junior championship in Vancouver and Sweden.
"That seems like a long time ago,'" he said, wistfully.
Forever1940 is the nom de plume of Eric Hornick, statistician on Islander home telecasts since 1982. Visit my blog: forever1940.blogspot.com and follow me on Twitter @ehornick