Keith Aulie or Oscar Klefbom: Which would be the better Oiler next season?

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There’s a very good case to be made that Oscar Klefbom is a better player than Keith Aulie, and not just tomorrow but today as well.

Despite this, Aulie has to be the odds-on favourite to make next season’s team, with Klefbom likely ticketed for the minor leagues.

One-Way Contracts

We like to talk about training camp as a critical time for the team’s decision-makers (it is, but generally within carefully defined parameters), but the recipients of most roster spots are telegraphed well in advance of players returning from their summer holidays. NHL teams just don’t like handing out one-way contracts to players they aren’t relatively sure are going to make the cut.

Players on the 2014-15 defensive depth chart with a one-way deal include:

  • Justin Schultz (once his new deal is ironed out)
  • Nikita Nikitin (new deal)
  • Mark Fayne (new deal)
  • Andrew Ference (existing deal)
  • Jeff Petry (new deal)
  • Keith Aulie (new deal)

That’s six of the team’s seven slots, with impressive rookie Martin Marincin a near-lock for the other.

That doesn’t mean that Oscar Klefbom or someone like Darnell Nurse can’t make the team out of camp; it simply means that doing so would either require an injury, or necessitate a trade or demotion.

Development and the No. 7 Slot

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Would the Oilers have been better off leaving a slot open for a guy like Nurse or Klefbom rather than signing a (relatively unimpressive) veteran like Aulie? Probably not.

Even granting that Aulie is a dud (and it would be awfully early to state that), as a general rule an NHL team just shouldn’t be putting prospects in the No. 7 hole. The fact is that the No. 7 defenceman is going to be watching a lot of games from the pressbox, and even when he makes it into the lineup he’s not going to be playing a ton.

Applying this to Klefbom, there’s no question that he’s going to have more opportunity filing the rough edges off his game in 20-25 minutes of duty every night (likely including both special teams) at the AHL level than he would playing 15 minutes per game and sitting out a bunch of them in the NHL. This is particularly true when the facilities and the coaching staff down on the farm are excellent, as they are in Oklahoma City.

Assuming the Oilers subscribe to roughly this school of thought, that means there is no real chance of a prospect with waiver eligibility winning the No. 7 role; he has to play in the top-six or not at all. The Oilers have five of those spots filled with established players, all with expensive contracts (we’re presuming here that Schultz will cost some money to sign), and a sixth which will likely go to Marincin.

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And frankly, that’s how it should be. Marincin earned the right to be penciled in when he showed he was ready over 44 games last season, games he got to play thanks to injuries and poor performances on the parent club. 

It will be up to Klefbom to show the same when he gets his shot this season. 

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • BlazingSaitls

    I believe Aulie is the right guy for the 7 slot. Klefbom needs to play top pairing minutes in the AHL till at least Christmas.

    That probably won’t happen though with injuries and such.

    If Mac-T wants to get bold he could always try to pry Johansson out of Columbus for Draisaitl and Petry…

  • BobbyCanuck

    My only issue with this type of development came from a quote late last year from the big Swede himself. He said something to the effect of, “I can only develop so much playing with AHL level players. I found that I played better with NHL players as I was able to make more creative plays and passes, since they wouldn’t just go errant. IN the AHL there’s a lot more chip and chase because players aren’t at the level where high end plays can be made.”

    So knowing he thinks he can find another gear and play at a higher ability with better players, might engraining the AHL style game into him actually stunt his growth as a player?

    I’m also not saying the number 7 slot is the best, I just don’t want any of Marincin, Klefbom or Nurse to be mis developed like so many other Oiler prospects.

    • Basshole39

      Blaw Blaw Blaw!!

      Alright, list the guys who were developed wrong and then tell me how you in your omnipotence you would have done it differently?

      Do you egomaniacs ever listen to yourselves?

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Well, the Oilers, especially in the last decade, have a well known reputation for incorrectly developing players. Gagner and Lander stick out as two examples that get referenced frequently.

        But, and I wish I could remember where I read it – maybe over at Flames nation actually from Kent Wilson – someone looked at the success of a few teams around the league on drafting and the level of players they promoted. Edmonton had an interesting stat in that they promoted the highest amount of players who played 50 NHL games or less, and the least amount that played 200 games or more. That lead the writer to believe, Edmonton is the worst team in the league for developing the talent they drafted.

        I don’t honestly know how I would have done it differently, as hindsight speculations and claims seem unproductive. I’m also not a hockey development coach, so I really do not have any expertise to add. I am merely a fan, who has noted the organization has done a lot of work recently to fix this problem and are now finally on the cusp of actually having some good players in the system, and I just don’t want to see them screw it up.

        • Basshole39

          I read the same article. The writer does note take into account drafting in his numbers. He basically assumes everyone drafted should make the NHL and have productive careers and if they don’t it is the teams fault.

          I disagree on Gagner. He showed he can compete at the NHL level in his rookie year. Some players can’t learn to play a certain way. It’s the way they are wired.

          Developing players is overated! By this I mean I do not believe it has as big an impact as people believe. We are talking about the highest level of competition in the world and there are only 700 or so jobs available. The fact is about 90% of players drafted will not make a career in the NHL. Plain and Simple!

          • Serious Gord

            I think he just looks at the numbers compared to other teams and notices other teams were able to either draft better talent, or develop it better. The numbers speak for themselves on that one.

            Whether you disagree with Gagner or not does not change the fact that he is regularly sited as being mis managed by the Oilers in terms of development, and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say those people are more knowledgable than you or I in that area.

            True that most players won’t make the NHL, but if you look around the league at the current top teams and some of the past top teams, it’s all about drafting properly and developing that talent properly. Chicago, St. Louis, and the Kings are notable examples of teams built through draft and development.

          • Basshole39

            I’m sorry, but what notable hockey people say the Oilers misdeveloped Gagner? I have heard a bunch of people on this site say it, but no one with any insite.

            I’m not sure the point you are trying to make in your last statement?

            Chicago did what the Oilers are doing now.

            St. Louis has done well, but I would not put them in the same class as multiple cup winners.

            The Kings are mostly built through trades! So there is no comparison.

    • I hear what you’re saying and do agree some players can get complacent in the AHL. Though, I get the sense that Klefbom is motivated and wants to play in the NHL and succeed at it. Further AHL seasoning likely will help him more than hinder him, IMO….

      as a side note, i really hope Marincin can take another step forward this year…

      • Serious Gord

        Agree on all accounts. Not only would it be nice to see Marincin find a higher gear, but I’m waiting for him to gain some weight as well. When that happens, he could be a very impressive defender. I wonder if they’ll give him opportunity to contribute to some offence this year?

  • Bennyboy

    What is the deal with all these idiots going on about “if MacT wants to live up to his bold moves”
    Get a grip, every single one of you!!
    75% of the roster is turned over, all new coaching staff, analytics guy added.

    Bold does not equal stupid trading.

    The sheer ignorance of people in general is nothing more than society’s bain.

    Or maybe these people talk without knowing anything about the teams roster.

    Either way, get a grip.

      • Bennyboy

        The sooner people realize that competitive teams aren’t built over a short time period, the better off we’ll all be.

        Just because we are jumping to get a #2 centre dosent mean that every other G.M. in the league is jumping to give us one.
        Arcobello is a pretty effective player BTW. Dr. Drai could probably run a soft parade.

        Many teams have success using a defense by committee approach. Mark Fayne is easily a #2 Dman. Being as he was top pairing pretty much exclusively in Jersey and all. Faced the toughest of the toughs every night, successfully to boot.
        Nikitin isn’t a joke either.

        Hendricks, Scrivens, Fasth, Perron and Purcell qualify as pygmy trades? On what planet.

        There, now you’re a little more up to speed on what’s happened since the start of last year.
        Have a great day!

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Not an idiot, nor agreeing with all the outrageous trade proposals out there. BUT… even with all the activity, MacT has preferred to work around the edges and the lower half of the roster, rather than at the top of the roster as has happened in Dallas, for instance where they’ve acquired two legitimate #1 centres in two years.

      Oilers biggest problems have been #1 Defence and #2/#1 Centre, neither of which have been addressed. Whether the “defence by committee” approach works, and Draisaitl can jump into that #2C role immediately remains to be seen.

      Over the longer term, say 2-3 years I think there’s no problem, so really what MacT has said is 2-fold. First, waiting another 2-3 years is OK, and secondly, the current top of the roster is great as it is and the mix will work once the maturing pieces slot in.

      Given his choices that’s probably a smart thing to do, but hey, for those that don’t want to wait any longer (8yrs is enough) or who question the top players, doing something “bold” is a great strategy with a higher potential for success.

  • Joy S. Lee

    @Will

    That’s an excellent point! I’d forgotten about that.

    I was going along with the thinking of his #1 status on the farm being where he could most benefit, but based upon your reminder, I’m back to questioning it.

    For my money, if Klefbom played the season at 15 minutes a night on the Oil blueline, by seasons’ end he’d be the best we have among that entire group…not kidding, not at all.

    Thing is, I really like Aulie’s upside and size, and JW is right that Marinicin earned his stripes, too.

    All that being said, I think any moves made by MacT to solidify other positions will happen courtesy of one or two of these defenseman. I just pray that any of the ones going the other way don’t include Klefbom.

    • BobbyCanuck

      I mean, it’s obviously really difficult to argue his development is better served in a press box as the number seven, rather than getting play time on the farm. I agree that Marincin should stay by way of earning it, and I would prefer a big bodied vet who can skate in the 7 hole to add overall size throughout the D core when plain certain teams in our division.

      But, early scouting reports have Klefbom having a big point shot, one that I saw first hand at the U of A Bears v Prospects game a few years ago. Klefbom nocked down a chip out on the point, then hammered in a goal. It was unreal. But it seems more and more the Oilers are developing him into a bigger Nick Schultz, and I’m worried the longer he’s down on the farm, the less of a complete defenseman he’ll become.

      But again, there’s not really a better option presenting itself, other than him being first call up, ala Marincin last year.

      As for Mac T, from what he’s said about the kids coming up, it really seems like he believes in his drafting, and filling all the remaining major holes that way. I think he sees the potential for Draisaitl, Yakimov, the three defensive horsemen, and realizes that with correct development, he’s about a year or two away from needing a 4th line RW, and that’s about it. Say he’s able to sign Perron to an extension, and maybe Fasth also comes along as a back up, in two years the team could very easily look like this:

      Hall Nuge Ebs

      Perron Draisaitl Yak

      Poulliot Yakimov Purcell

      Hendricks Gordon ?

      Nurse Fayne

      Nikitin Klefbom

      Marincin Schultz / Petry.

      Again, depending on development, that could be a deep and contending team.

  • Bennyboy

    JW – Does Marincin need to clear waivers to go down?

    If he does then that would be a positive in that he and Klefbom can push each other for the final spot in the top 6 (I see Aulie as #7). I expect Marincin to be the one to win the job, but it’s always better if there is competition for that spot, and if MM were to stumble with a poor camp/pre-season then Klef could take his spot on opening night. Good motivation for the both of them.

  • Basshole39

    While I do agree that the likely best place for Klefbom is the AHL for at least the start of this year. It should be understood that AHL games will only develop a prospect to a point…eventually, the only way a player can really adapt to the NHL is to actually play NHL games. Very few players arrive as fully formed products, their final lessons have to be learned on NHL ice.

    Looking at other top young dmen in the game over the past decade, they simply don’t need much AHL seasoning before they’re ready for a bigger challenge. If Klefbom is as good as we hope, it shouldn’t be a big surprise if he makes the team very soon.

    My hope is that the Oilers let Klefbom’s play dictate the kind of schedule they should take with him.

    • Bennyboy

      I disagree that the top end D talent in the last decade did not need very long in the AHL. Other than Doughty, there are a significant amount of guys that spent a year or 2 in the AHL. Weber and Pietrangelo come to mind.

        • Basshole39

          My mistake, he played two years of junior and Weber played two years of junior then half a year in the AHL. Point being they didn’t jump into the NHL right away and have success like Doughty. He is one of the few outliers that was a great defenceman right away.

          You could say Headman, but he’s only now becoming that guy after five years in the NHL.

          Can you think of others who made the jump right away to the NHL and had success?

  • Bennyboy

    Klefboms first shift with the oilers he did his job.In the offensive zone he retrieved the puck three different times, 3 different ways and turned toward the net , looking for forwards that were never there, the look on his face going back to the bench was one of utter confusion. WTF kind of system are we playing here? Sure he was not the only one confused. This team needs to learn that you cannot win playing from the perimeter and i don’t see enough changes on the team that will make a difference. On another note ESKSFANS.COM has disappeared. How about an Eskimos Nation? What a difference a qualified head coach makes.

  • Serious Gord

    So, which of these three things was the primary driver of the oil getting Aulie?:

    1. he’s a good player

    2. He was cheap to aquire

    3. He played with the marlies under Eakins

    Further to the above:

    Who got to play centre first last season?:

    Will Acton – former marlies player under Eakins OR Mark Arcobello;

    Which of those two was the better centre?

    In light of the above, which of Klefbom or Aulie is likely to get to start the season with the big team?

    • Zarny

      Regarding the first question – #2 he’s cheap. The fact he played under Eakins as a Marlie was likely a factor in signing Aulie over some other cheap Dman but the driving factor was cheap.

      Regarding the second question – Mark Arcobello. Arco started the season playing on the top 2 lines while Nuge and Gagner were hurt while Acton got spot duty on the 4th line. Over the course of the season Arco played 41 NHL games to Acton’s 30.

      Would you actually argue Klefbom should spend 2/3 of next season sitting in the press box instead of Keith Aulie?

      • Serious Gord

        So the Eakins link was the deciding factor. Glad you agree with me

        Arcobello was always the better player. It wasn’t until Acton’s ineptitude was too extensive and blatant that Eakins couldn’t ignore it that he switched to arcobello for good.

        I think that if klefbom is clearly the better player he should start. I don’t think it likely that aulie was the best option to MacT when he was signed – that his links to Eakins made him a mercy signing.

        And if klefbom is being rushed as a result then fingers should be pointed at Klowe MacT for not finding a real 1/2 dman.

        • Zarny

          No, cheap was the deciding factor. Regardless of his relationship with Eakins, if Aulie wanted $1.5M he wouldn’t be an Oiler.

          Don’t be so obtuse.

          Yes, Arcobello was always the better player.

          That’s why in the first game of the season Arco played 14:54 min against better competition and Acton only played 8:28 min.

          And why in the 7th game of season against Pit Arco played 21:06 min vs Acton’s 5:30 min.

          Not only did Eakins NOT favor Acton over Arcobello…it wasn’t even close.

          Stick to reality Gord…it works better.

          • Serious Gord

            It is you who is being evasive. There are lots of players with quotes skillset and price tag – the deciding factor was his link to Eakins.

            Acton should never have been on the roster. He performance proved it. And do you really think he would have got a single minute of time were it not for the links the Eakins?

            Stop obfuscating.

          • Tikkanese

            Acton made the roster because he seriously outplayed Lander for the 4th line spot and both RNH and Gagner were injured to start the season.

            Stop with the conspiracy theories lacking in substance.

          • Tikkanese

            SG’s point would be far more valid if he swithched the name “Arcobello” for the name “Lander”.

            In that case, I believe most here would agree with him.

            That being said, please stop feeding the troll!!!!

  • Zarny

    In reading this article, I expect Klefbom is slated to start in OKC. There will be injuries and he will have opportunities, which is how it should be.

    Aulie – I’m sure he’s here as a reasonable 7th defenceman and he’ll likely be in the line up against Calgary’s truculence, and the like. Nothing wrong with this signing (so far).

  • Zarny

    I don’t understand why everyone is so quick to hand over the 6D spot to Marincin. He came up and started well but I thought Klefbom looked better at the end of the year. I believe that Klefbom will take the spot and it will be Marincin going down and waiting for a call up. I’d keep Aulie around as a number 7 or any of the young kids. He can sit in the press box at times and come in against some bigger, tougher teams. Having a young guy sit one if every five or six games isn’t a bad thing. They can learn from watching as well.

    As for the Arco vs Acton argument…who cares, they are both AHL players that shouldn’t be here if we want to challenge for a playoff spot.

    • Serious Gord

      Well take into consideration that at the time Klefbom came up, Marincin had played top-2 minutes (most nights) having to shut down the likes of Perry,Getzlaf,Kopitar,etc for the whole season. Klefbom was hungry to showcase himself to the team

  • Serious Gord

    I’d way rather have Klefbom playing top-4 minutes in OKC than less than 15 minutes every 10 games. Sign some washed up nhl defensemen and put them in OKC. We need Klefbom to take the Marincin path.

  • Tikkanese

    You just aren’t really up on your facts then.

    Kings drafted players:

    Kopitar
    Doughty
    Voynov
    King
    Toffoli
    Brown
    Quick
    Pearson

    Only their captain, number one centre, number one goalie, and a host of role players and defenceman. Yep, mostly built through trade though.

    Chicago is not doing what the Oilers are now, they had their whole team drated before getting their top end Toews and Kane talent. Most of their entire team came through the draft, wheras Edmonton really only has the top line, Yak, maybe Draisaitl, Petry, and Marincin to speak of.

    But if you want to keep harping that development is not important, go ahead, I’m gonna stop listening. I guess it’s because I’m an egomaniac that doesn’t listen to myself.

    • Basshole39

      I’m not up on my facts?
      You listed 4 players that really contributed to their last cup run and you forgot Martinez by the way.
      Aquired by trdae:Conn Smythe winner Williams, leading scorer Gaborik, Carter, Stoll, Green, Mitchell(UFA).

      Uh, who were there first adds? Oh I don’t know maybe Keith and Seabrook in 2003. Name some others there bud. Sharp, Hossa, Oduya, Leddy all from outside the org. So yeah, they have 6 or 7 drafted players that had a major impact.

      But if you want put your head in the sand and plug your ears good luck to you!

      • Quicksilver ballet

        You said most of their team was got through trades. Last time I checked a team was more than five guys. I would also look at the players used in those trades to get those guys, spoiler, mostly guys they drafted and developed: Schenn, Simmonds, Johnson. Those trades didn’t just come from nowhere.

        And yes you’re right Keith and Seabrook were the two first adds, and yes they are stars on the team, but they weren’t immediate impact players upon draft day like Hall or Kane or Toews, they were developed for a long time before they became the top shut down pair they are today.

        And those four guys, again helped push the team over the edge, but Chicago has drafted and developed like 11 or 13 guys who play on their roster. One of those guys was Buflygn.

        My point is that championship team, or I guess cup contending teams since you don’t want to put St. Louis in the same breath, have strong draft and development, something the Oilers are just recently getting better at, and something they can easily screw up at this point in their rebuild.

        Just look at how mis used Yak was last year and tell me they are developing that asset properly. Petry, a good talent has been asked to play above his speed for years. Schultz same. Now Draisaitl (though I am for the idea) is going to take 3rd or second line centre minutes after two years in the dub? There was even knocks against rushing Nuge into the NHL as he was not physically ready, proven by his shoulder injury. IMO Nurse is being developed properly, and he’s one of the very few.

        Even more shocking is that outside of the first overall, heck, first round selections, who is on the Oilers? Marincin? Maybe Pitlick this year? (both taken in the second round). In what world has this been strong drafting and development? That is why the rebuild continues, and until players like Nurse, Klefbom, Yakimov, Chase, Moroz, are properly developed and brought in to fill the gaps in the team around the top end talent, Edmonton is going to have a tough time going from bottom feeder, to playoff contender, to cup contender. It’s not how winning teams are built.

        But, as a good example of a team that was built through UFA, look at Minnesota. Yes, they make the playoffs, and last year were even able to beat plucky underdog Colorado, but do you believe their going to beat Chicago, LA, San Jose, or Anaheim out of the west to get to the cup final?

        • Basshole39

          Trades did not come from nowhere. Thats a news flash. You are comparing these teams at different stages of their rebuilds.

          I never stated the Oilers had good drafting or developing! I aksed you to tell us in your wisdom how you would have done it better!

          Then you provided nothing to that account except some crappy article that tells us something we can all plainly see for ourselves, but the whole premise of said article is development of players, not taking into account real actual issues like poor drafting, or maybe a player was good in junior, but can’t take the next step because he plateaued!

          Then you brought up teams like Chi, St. Lou and LA. I don’t get there relevance to development. Show me something that says Toews would not be as good if he were on the Oilers, or Kane or Doughty or Backes!

        • Basshole39

          And these so called knocks are simply opinions.

          Do you think Seguin would not be as good as he is now if he was thrust into primetime minutes or Hall could be better if he wasn’t.

  • hemmertime

    I don’t understand why people are higher on Marincin than Klefbom. By my eye, Klefbom was a good measure better than Marincin in all respects.

    They both had defensive gaffes, but that’s expected. I thought Klefbom was more physical, had better skating, possessed a better first pass, and showed better poise. I guess I’m watching a different game.

    • Basshole39

      Maybe it’s the sample size. People saw Marincin over 40 + games and he did well, meaning he’s less of a question mark going into yet another season with a lot of question marks?

    • Basshole39

      Thank you. I agree 100%. I don’t get the love affair with Marincin either. I thought he looked good at times and very over matched at times. People keep saying “when he adds 20 lbs”…then go add it and come back. I thought Klefbom was way better and can’t wait for him to show it in camp.

  • Dan 1919

    JW, “That doesn’t mean that Oscar Klefbom or someone like Darnell Nurse can’t make the team out of camp; it simply means that doing so would either require an injury, or necessitate a trade or demotion.”

    I don’t think that point can be understated right now.

    •Justin Schultz (once his new deal is ironed out)
    •Nikita Nikitin (new deal)
    •Mark Fayne (new deal)
    •Andrew Ference (existing deal)
    •Jeff Petry (new deal)
    •Keith Aulie (new deal)

    Still a relatively weak Dcore. I don’t think anybody should be taking their D job for granted this year. IMO it’s very likely that 2 of… Nurse, Klefbom, or Marincin could make the Oilers substantially better than two of the 1-way deal guys. If that happens to be the case I can see guys being scratched or sent out of town with little hesitation.

    Hopefully all these one way guys light it up, if not, the future core D men are at the point where they transition into the NHL; the logistics of an underperforming 1 way deal is not going to hold them back very long.

  • Basshole39

    I said it last year, either here or on the Lowetide site that Klefbom would pass Marincin on the depth chart before the end of this coming season and I still believe that.

    The Oil can put Aulie as the 7th defense but as soon as an injury occurs they bring up klefbom as the replacement and leave Aulie as the 7th defense.

    I, as well, read the interview as well as the poster above, when Klefbom says that its just more predictable where a teammate would be in the NHL rather than the AHL.

    Put Klef in the NHL, all day long.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Petry,Fayne,Nikitin,Ference,Schultz,Mirincin,Nurse,Klefbom and Aulie will all see time considerable this season. More so after injuries and the Petry trade after Christmas.

    They should wait till after the World Juniors to let Nurse get his 9 games in. Maybe add some value to the death march games in Mar/Apr next season.

    • sportsjunkie007

      From time to time I like to ask trolls this question:

      What do you get from trolling? Are you just desperate for attention and even negative attention will suffice? Are you trying to play the part of the devil’s advocate, trying to get people to look at things from a different perspective? Is it something else?

      Life’s too short to waste it being a tool. Find something positive that you enjoy and focus on that instead.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I was just adding my 2 cents on my one post on this topic. It wasn’t an effort to attack anyone. It does certainly appear as though you’re the one seeking attention here.

        Maybe this is a question best suited to asking yourself, no?

        Or, you can send me 149.95 +gst and I can take a run at answering those questions if you like.

        We all await your words of wisdom Sport. I’ll play the role as your target if you need me to. I’m out of rum anyways.

  • BobbyCanuck

    Yes, there will be injuries, lots of opportunity over the course of the season to give every D man a fair chance to show thier stuff. I am hoping someone on the bubble will shine on like a crazy diamond.

    As an aside, if Taylor Fedun cracks San Jose D corp, can we agree that all is lost, and we are living in a dream up here