If there were a series of novellas written about the professional career of Linus Omark, the first volume could be penned by Dennis Lehane. The man most famous for writing ‘Mystic River’ has a full catalog of books that always tell two tales that get woven into one incredible ending. Sometimes the beauty is discovering the twist before it arrives, and sometimes the twist is that there isn’t really a twist at all. By modern standards, few write like Lehane does, and few do it with such fabulous consistency.
Linus Omark was predestined greatness far too prematurely. With the YouTube sensation tag stamped on the heart of draft watchers, it appeared that the Oilers stole a sniper late in the 4th round of 2007. And yet he was a mysterious figure to some — a player with a lot of potential on paper and very few seen-him-good moments taken by firsthand accounts. But the stats, the size, the skill remained. And so he laced up his skates with the Edmonton Oilers organization deep in the meat basket of the United States (or as you know it, Oklahoma).
In Edmonton, Omark was a hopeful icon. Uncertainty of where, how, and when he’d fit in a Tom Renney lineup was always problematic. And amongst those that followed the game closely, the ideal of Omark in Edmonton seemed fantastic, but never fully realized. He was a skilled forward that demanded top 6 play. He was viewed as a goal scorer first with great hands, a quick foot, and a tenacious swagger that perked the senses. Could the Oilers learn to love Omark, and could Omark learn to be patient with the Oilers? Those were the lingering questions for two years straight. That is until the scales began to tip towards a mutual detachment by both parties.
In Oklahoma City, Omark was a magnanimous individual. He was cheeky in conversation, but always lovable. He was honest in his aspirations, and occasionally unimpressed with the AHL city where he resided. He straddled the fence of across-the-pond adorable, and arrogant git. That is, until you watched him play. He single handily could take control of a hockey game, something I haven’t seen in a minor league hockey player ever. His five goal game against Toronto a few years back was remarkable. His stingy manhandling of the best AHL goaltenders was substantial. He was the one player on the ice that demanded you not blink. In all the years that I’ve watched hockey, I’ve never watched a player like Omark with my own eyes. The guy was clearly an NHL player. And if he wasn’t now, he would be soon.
The relationship between player and organization seemingly spoiled to the point where Linus has now entertained an offer from the Swiss team Zug. He seems bent on continuing to make his own how-to guide for moving on with a career irregardless of what others want. And that’s hard to not find endearing. A player that actually thinks and speaks honestly, and at a young age, and at an early stage — refreshing. The team mentality certainly isn’t lost on Omark, he understands that. Where he differs, when compared to most young NHL players, is that there’s no kowtowing to the powers-that-be. Perhaps it was unintentional, but he gave respect only where respect was given. And maybe that’s not the culture of pro sports — to expect your check writer to respect your positions — but this is what Omark insisted on. Again, that’s unusual for a young gun.
You can read that the Oilers still retain the NHL rights of Omark until you’re tired of hearing it, but if the twisty first chapter of Omark’s career has taught us one thing, it’s that the twist is coming. It might not come when you think it does or should, but it’s coming. And sometimes it doesn’t happen at all, and that becomes the twist no one anticipated. “Will he return or won’t he,” is a question that most Oilers faithful will consider if the lockout doesn’t fry your mind first. But never stick Omark into a corner because the next chapter could be a thriller or a witty prose — you really never know.