Carolina Hurricanes prospect and Charlotte Checkers forward Oskar Osala announced on his Twitter account that he is indeed heading back to Europe next season, ending months of speculation, reports and denials that those were his intentions. Osala will play for the KHL's Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in 2010-11. Here are two tweets from his account, @OskarOsala:
@checkershockey and all my team mates for 3 fun & learning yrs. Im excited to move on but hope to be back one day. #newchapter
This time for real. I will be playing for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk next season. I want to thank @washcaps @thehersheybears @NHL_canes
Speculation that Osala would head to the KHL began in early March when Urheilulehti, a weekly Finnish sports magazine, reported that the 23-year-old forward was poised to sign a one-year deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, a story that Osala denied. The Hurricanes responded to those reports, saying that both Osala and his agent called it a false report and that Osala still wanted to play in the NHL. Osala is a restricted free agent, therefore still property of the Hurricanes but not bound to a contract. The Hurricanes have not addressed Osala's decision.Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the rumors surrounding Osala at his end-of-the-season press conference, saying he was unsure of the forward's plans but that, with improved skating, he could be part of Carolina's continued youth movement and make it to the NHL.
Osala, a 6-4, 219 pound left winger, was acquired from the Washington Capitals at the 2010 trade deadline, coming to Carolina along with Brian Pothier and a second round pick in exchange for Joe Corvo, who, like Pothier, was set to be an unrestricted free agent. Pothier wound up in the Swiss league this season while Corvo ended up returning to Carolina. Osala played well down the stretch for the Albany River Rats, Carolina's then-AHL affiliate, last season, registering 10 goals and three assists in 16 games and another three points in eight playoff games. He also played one game with the Hurricanes, the third of his NHL career.
But Osala was unable to make the jump to the NHL this season and spent the entire season with Charlotte, Carolina's new top affiliate. In 59 games, Osala finished with 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points, and added three goals and two assists in 15 games in the Checkers' run to the AHL Eastern Conference finals.
Osala was a fourth round pick (97th overall) to Washington in the 2006 Draft out of Mississauga of the OHL. He returned to his native Finland for the 2007-08 season, but returned to North America the following year and was part of the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup championship team in 2008-09. Osala was in the final year of his entry-level deal that paid him $62,500 annually in the AHL. His NHL salary, had he made it full time, would have been $685,000 in 2008-09, followed by $735,000 in 2009-10 and $785,000 this past season.