It sounds decidedly counterintuitive. The Oilers need defencemen, so why would they trade a big 20-year-old blue-liner with a range of skills just as he’s learning the North American professional game?
There are reasons why it may make sense.
The simple fact is that Edmonton desperately needs at least one top-pairing calibre defenceman. The modern incarnation of Chris Pronger would be the dream here, which is why Shea Weber’s name never dies, but that may not be possible and if it isn’t Edmonton has to fill the void somehow.
The names that might be available on the trade market are generally some distance south of Weber. Players like Christian Ehrhoff and Brian Campbell and Dustin Byfuglien are the ones people speculate about; good, useful defenders either underrated by their current teams or playing out the string on a roster miles away from contending.
All of those guys have some warts, but all of them would represent a massive upgrade for an Edmonton team leaning on the trio of Jeff Petry, Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz. If MacTavish can’t bring in a Pronger, he needs to find at least a Boris Mironov or Janne Niinimaa or Roman Hamrlik. And given the meagre free agent pickings available, odds are good he’ll have to do it via trade.
In this hypothetical trade for a good defenceman, Edmonton needs a package of certain quality to trade. It has to be good enough to get the other team interested. It has to be non-vital enough that it isn’t going to crush the team to lose it. And finally it needs to be fair value for the Oilers, a team that needs to put meat on the table for every shot they fire.
The 2014 first round draft pick might have fit those bills, but at this point the Oilers would need eight more points than they have just to get outside the top-five of the draft. It’s still a moveable piece, but the return on it needs to be something bigger than Mironov or Niinimaa and those returns are hard to land.
Some of the young forwards (Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) are too vital to make the list; the others (Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov) fall into the same boat as that 2014 pick, where the guy coming the other way needs to be a lot bigger than he’s likely to be. Sam Gagner’s tradable but opens up an ugly hole at centre, and the only plausible internal replacement has all of 32 career games under his belt.
What about Darnell Nurse? Team Canada may not be in love with him but he’s a 6’4” 18-year-old with a mean streak and a near point-per-game scoring run under his belt in junior this year. He’s not going to be good enough soon enough to plug the hole on defence himself, but he’s Edmonton’s best prospect by a country mile and a perfect fit for long-term need.
Which is where Klefbom comes in. He’s a good player, with that nice blend of skills and a combination of size and speed that’s awfully hard to find. He was a first round draft pick. So he has value. But at the same time, he’s also 27 games into his AHL career, 20 years old and a guy who barely played last season; he isn’t going to fix Edmonton’s blue line problems any time soon. He can move the puck but his offensive ability has a definite ceiling; he might evolve into a very, very good shutdown guy but that’s years away and not impossible to find. He’s a left-shooting defenceman on a team with Nurse, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, Brandon Davidson and Dillon Simpson, so the Oilers have both quality and depth at the position.
Put it all together and it’s hard not to wonder if Klefbom is moved at some point. He has enough value to be the key asset in return for a good NHL player, much like he was when Edmonton moved Dustin Penner out. His absence doesn’t hurt the Oilers now, and they have a wealth of prospects at the position. And while an excellent prospect he’s not the kind of player likely to embarrass the team by winning a Norris Trophy five years down the road.
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