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To Russia with love

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers
Linus Omark displays his creativity by flipping the puck over a Swiss goalie during a shootout on March 31, 2009. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Never has an Oiler looked so good in yellow. Whether you recognize his unbelievable shootout goal from the email that flew around your office or his name from the IIHF World Championships leader board in early May, Sweden’s Linus Omark has burned his bright Tre Kronor jersey into the retinas of Oilers fans and future watchers.

Edmonton’s fourth pick (97th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Omark is more legend than left-winger to those who have seen him only in pixilated form. In fact, if you Google his name, the top results are YouTube videos, not the usual stats pages that come up for more mortal hockey players.

While this is all mysterious and exciting to Oiler fans, Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast assures that Omark is real – and more importantly, the real deal.

“When you finish second in the (Swedish) Elite League in scoring, you’ve got something going for you,” Prendergast says. “He might be a poor man’s Patrick Kane, in that he knows how to score. He doesn’t have the speed that Kane has, but he’s gritty, he gets into open areas, he creates things, and he certainly has imagination as the shootout goals show. I think he’s a kid with a lot of self-confidence, so he’s a player that the fans here in Edmonton will like.”

At the 2009 World Championships in Switzerland, Omark finished with two goals, eight assists, and 14 penalty minutes, good for second on Team Sweden and 11th among all tournament skaters – not bad for a 5’9” 22-year-old with only one previous world tournament on his resume (2007 World Juniors).

“Size is an issue because we have a lot of small players at his point,” Prendergast admits. “But the thing he does very well is that the size doesn’t hamper him – he plays very gritty. He plays like a bigger player. He competes in the areas. He wants the puck.”

What he lacks in size, he makes up in attitude. His 14 penalty minutes at the 2009 WCs were the most among the tournament’s top 30 scorers. Nobody else topped 10.

According to Prendergast, that intensity translates off the ice as well.

“You have to look at everything when you’re looking at prospects, and personality has a lot to do with it,” the Oilers exec explains. “A lot of times, the way they play on the ice is their personality. He’s cocky. He plays that way on the ice. He’s very sure of himself, which is always good to have in a hockey player, and his goal is to play in the NHL.”

Unfortunately for Oilers fans, Omark has decided to wait at least one more year before shooting for that goal. In April, the Overtornea native committed to the KHL’s Moscow Dynamo for 2009-10, with an option to play a second a year.

Prendergast understands – and supports – the decision.

“He had a hell of an offer to play in Russia, which is fine – we weren’t going to match it money-wise. We have a lot of small players right now so it isn’t going to hurt him to play a year in Russia. He’s going to get better there.”

As for 2010-11, Prendergast is hopeful fans in Edmonton will get to see the Swedish shootout star in person regularly. “From our standpoint, we didn’t feel it was a priority at this point to get him here, but at this time next year we would like to have him as part of the organization.”

Visit every Friday in May and June as we profile the top six Oilers prospects with the team’s Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast.

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