When people talk about the Edmonton Oilers, they focus on a few names Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Cam Talbot. If they talk about the defense, Andrej Sekera comes to mind for his spectacular play this season. Adam Larsson for being the part of the Taylor Hall blockbuster trade and probably Darnell Nurse for the many YouTube videos you can find of him destroying people in fights.
This often makes us overlook the smooth skating defenceman from Karlstad, Sweden – Oscar Klefbom. Not only is he quietly emerging as one of the most important defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers, but I think he has potential to develop into the number one defenseman that the team has been looking for all these years.
Stats don’t lie
It’s hard to believe that people don’t notice Klefbom more, as he averaged over 21 minutes of ice time per game in each of his last three seasons. He has also doubled his goal totals in three consecutive seasons and has already surpassed his career high in goals and points this season.
But what impresses me the most is that he only has two penalty minutes all year. In fact, he played the first 56 games of the season without committing a single penalty. That is a very impressive stat for a defenseman who plays in all situations.
All things aside, if you factor in Klefbom’s contract, with an annual cap hit of $4.167 million for six more years, per Cap Friendly, you see that it is a solid value contract for a player who already looks like a number two defenseman, and has potential to become a number one someday.
How did the Oilers land this gem?
Oscar Klefbom is the only active NHL player, from the 2011 trade deadline deal that sent Dustin Penner to the Los Angeles Kings. Penner was traded to the Oilers in exchange for Colten Teubert, a first-round draft pick in 2011 (Oscar Klefbom), and a third-round pick in the 2012 (Daniil Zharkov).
In retrospect, if that deal didn’t go through, Klefbom might be playing alongside Drew Doughty today, one could only imagine how scary that would be. It is a bonus for Oilers fans to know that the Chicago Blackhawks could have selected Klefbom one pick before the Oilers that year at 18th overall, and he could have been playing with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith right now.
The emergence of Oscar Klefbom
Although he is only 23-years-old, in terms of playing experience I consider Klefbom “a rookie and vet”. Like many NHL players from Europe, his professional career started early.
He began playing in the Swedish Hockey League for Färjestad BK at just 17-years-old. After three seasons, he came overseas to play for the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League. The early professional experience seemed to have helped him adjust to the North American game quickly. He found himself playing for the Edmonton Oilers as a 20-year-old late in the 2013/14 season.
Despite the smooth transition to North American hockey, there have been some growing pains in Klefbom’s early NHL career. Given how bad the Edmonton Oilers were, like many of his teammates, Klefbom had an unpretty -21 rating in the 2014/15 season.
Amidst those ugly stats, he put up reasonable numbers for a rookie with two goals,18 assists and 20 points in 60 games. Optimistically speaking, those tough times offered invaluable learning experiences, that seemed to have sped up his development as an NHL player.
New regime in Edmonton
With top-down changes in management and coaching prior to the 2015/16 season, new Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli saw Klefbom as a valuable piece moving forward and locked him up to a seven-year, $29.2 million contract extension.
Coming into the new season, I had high hopes for Klefbom and expected him to be a big part of the Oilers’ defense. The team had a decent start to the season and Oscar Klefbom looked like a top pairing defenseman to me.
Unfortunately, his season was cut short by injuries, but in the 30 games he did play in, he put up respectable numbers with four goals and eight assists for 12 points. After going down in December 2015, Klefbom’s absence was really noticeable, as I honestly thought the Oilers would have been a borderline playoff team that year, had Klefbom not get hurt so early.
Player comparison and style of play
In terms of player comparison, I might get flamed for this, but I see a lot of Duncan Keith in Klefbom’s game. I’m not saying that he will be as good but he plays a similar style.
Like Keith, he is a great puck mover, skater and has great offensive instincts. His skating ability allows him to jump into the rush and rush back defensively at ease. He also has a decent shot which allows him to be a threat to score from the point.
Defensively, like Keith, he plays a smart game and utilizes his great skating to get into great defensive positions to mitigate scoring chances. He is not overly physical and doesn’t play recklessly with his body, but is skilled enough to do most of his defensive work with his stick, allowing him to conserve energy and play a lot of minutes.
Things Klefbom can improve on
After watching Klefbom for parts of four seasons, there are a few things in his game that I think he can improve on – which can elevate his game to the next level and possibly help him to become a number one defenseman.
Passing the puck: I noticed that, he sometimes takes too long with his passing decisions and telegraphs his passes a split second too long. This allows his opponents to be able to read where the puck is going and be able to break up the play easily.
Decision making with the puck: I think he can improve his decision making with the puck. Especially, deciding when to pass and when to carry it up the ice himself. Sometimes he hesitates too long and tries to force his passes to teammates in tight areas, leading to unforced icings and offsides.
Improve his powerplay game: To be considered a true number one like the Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith, I think Klefbom needs to improve his ability to command a powerplay and be productive at that position. Klefbom has shown good progress and flashes of being capable, but he sometimes struggles in deciding when to pass and when to shoot. Since he has a heavy shot, I wouldn’t mind seeing him shoot the puck more often, but he also has improved on hitting the net consistently.
Add some physicality to his game: From a physical standpoint, Klefbom doesn’t really use his body much, as he tends to win most of his puck battles with his skating and stick alone.This doesn’t mean that he can’t be great, look no further than Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer.
But with physicality, I see a more well-rounded defenseman who will be a lot harder to play against. I don’t expect him to dish out punishment like Shea Weber, but I don’t think it would hurt to add a little mean streak into his game.
Like Duncan Keith and his teammate Adam Larsson, Klefbom can use his stick to engage physically and give opponents the occasional stick treatment in front of the net – maybe a subtle cross-check or a friendly slash. I feel like adding this element will make opposing players less willing to go into the high scoring areas, making his job a lot easier as a defender.
Overall, I think Klefbom can easily brush up these areas of his game to make him an even better player in no time. Considering that he hasn’t even played 200 NHL games yet, many of these things shouldn’t be much of a concern in the long run.
Player projections, is Oscar Klefbom number one material?
Is Oscar Klefbom number one material? The short answer is yes. I think he is a solid two-way defenseman with all the tools to be a number one someday. I definitely see glimpses of number one potential on his peak nights and expect to see more good nights than bad in the next few years.
I am bullish on his potential and I see him being 10-15 goal and 40-55 point defenseman. Right now, he is a capable number two and an high-end number three, but if he stays healthy, finds consistency and make improvements to his game, there’s no reason why he can’t be a legitimate number one.
Klefbom’s importance to the Edmonton Oilers going forward
At 23-years-old, he is the perfect age to grow with the young core of the Oilers. Assuming that Edmonton doesn’t make any major changes to their defensive core, which includes: Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson, Matt Benning, Brandon Davidson and Oscar Klefbom. If anyone, I see Klefbom with the most potential to become a number one defenseman.
I think Klefbom is already one of the most important players on the Oilers roster, in terms of how his play can greatly impact the outcome of the game for his team. I noticed that, even on nights when McDavid or Draisaitl have a very good game, the Oilers can still lose. But on nights when Klefbom has a bad game, it is almost a guaranteed lost for the oilers.
Do you think Oscar Klefbom has the potential to be a number one defenseman in the NHL? What areas of his game does he need to work on? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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