This is what you want. This is what the Edmonton Oilers haven’t had, even when they had greatness.
“We didn’t have enough people within our organization pushing people for jobs. You need that inner competition,” said general manager Steve Tambellini Monday after a player on the farm team almost singlehandedly upstaged the big team on a night when the Oilers defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in nine days in their own rink.
Linus Omark scoring five goals in a game isn’t just significant for Linus Omark. It’s significant for the Oilers.
This, after the humiliation of finishing last in the NHL and last in the AHL, is building organizational depth and having skilled people battle their way to the big league and be better when they get here.
Tambellini hasn’t had many magic moments in taking over the team and blowing it up to start all over from ground up. But watching the young Oilers beat the champs and getting updates from Oklahoma City at the same time as Omark scored five in the second half of a game on the farm, was a milepost moment.
“Billy Moores was texting me from Oklahoma City as the game was going on,” said Tambellini of the Oilers’ co-ordinator of player development, who was on the scene.
They weren’t just five goals. They were five straight goals. And Omark also scored in the shootout.
If he’d done it in an Oilers game, somebody would have won $1 million in Safeway’s Score And Win contest.
The five tied the record for most goals in a game by an Oiler farm system player with Bill McDougall, who scored five for Cape Breton in 1993 in an 8-2 win over St. John’s.
Omark didn’t load up in a laugher with mostly meaningless goals in an 8-2 game. He did it to lead the Oklahoma City Barons in a 7-6 victory over the Toronto Marlies, putting his team in first place in the Western Division standings with a 9-5-1 record.
The Barons were down 4-1 when he started with the first one at 10:33 of the second period. Omark had his hat trick in less than eight minutes of ice time. He sent the game to overtime with 47 seconds left in regulation. And he scored in the shootout.
He had 12 shots on goal and doubled his season total from five goals to 10.
In his first year as a pro in North America, Omark now finds himself tied for the AHL lead in goals with the 10, and for fifth in points with 17, after 15 games. He’s also a plus five on a team where Finnish prospect Teemu Hartikainen is a minus eight, centre Chris Vandevelde a minus nine and defenceman Jeff Petry minus 11.
He’d also scored the winner Friday over Texas, which made it a slam dunk that he’d be named AHL Player of the Week Monday morning as well.
Until now the 23-year-old from Overtomea, Sweden, who played last year for Moscow Dynamo in the KHL, was known for YouTube highlight reel goals but was more on quality than quantity. He had 20 goals and 16 assists in 56 games in Russia.
Omark left Edmonton for Oklahoma City at the end of training camp singing a somebody-done-somebody-wrong song.
He didn’t seem to get it that an NHL training camp, where there are a pile of players on one-way contracts ahead of you, not to mention three first-round draft choices like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi lined up to start their NHL careers in front of you, you’re not making the team.
With Hall, Paajarvi and Dustin Penner all left wingers and the top three scorers in the minors also left wingers, the 5’10, 170-pound Omark, by far the most upset player on final cut day, has to knock the door down or Hall has to move to centre.
Tambellini said it was tough for Omark to accept going down.
“He had a good camp but he didn’t show he had enough pro-game experience to knock somebody out of the box.
“To do what he did Sunday in Oklahoma City, good for him. So far in OKC he’s shown us how creative he is on offence and that he plays bigger than his size. He’s a little more high risk, but that’s what he is.
There’s a lot of work to do when he doesn’t have the puck that he never had to do in Russia or Sweden.
“His job is to put himself in a position if there’s an injury or player movement, to force a team to make a change.”
Scoring five goals in a game isn’t going to get Omark an overnight call up.
But it might speed up the process of getting somebody like, oh, say, Andrew Cogliano, moved.
And, in a year focused more on watching future stars develop than making the playoffs, it reminds Oilers fans that they are not all here yet.