One of the best stories to come out of another lost Oiler
season was the emergence of Oscar Klefbom. The former 19th Overall
pick from the 2011 Draft started the year in the AHL having played just a
smattering of games for the Oilers in 2013-2014. His season may have begun in
the AHL but when the last whistle sounded he was arguably at the top of the team’s
Defensive Depth chart.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Klefbom has been a fast learner his entire career and I didn’t
give that ability to learn and adjust enough credit. Indeed he has been very
resilient. He lost almost an entire year after an injury limited his 2012-2013
season to just 11 games. That’s the kind of thing that could have derailed the
young man’s career. I was certainly worried about the young blueliner virtually
losing an entire developmental year.
Defensemen, and all kids really, need to play games and
there’s no substitute for minutes played. But this kid was playing the
Professional game from the time he was 17 years old and that speaks to his
ability. When he came to the AHL he started slow, working his way up from the 3rd
pairing until he earned NHL time that very year. He was already working on an accelerated
timeline of progression.
The one thing he had never really done is add a healthy
amount of offense. Then he started just his 2nd AHL season. He
played only 9 games for the Barons this past season, picking up 8 points in
that time. He had effectively gone from 3rd pairing AHL player to
undeniable NHL talent in just a year in North America.
It wasn’t all at once. He took a little time, but he
eventually took over top pairing minutes. Here is his average ice time broken
down month by month.
His number of games played was split pretty evenly from his first
three months to his last 3 months but by his final 3 months he was logging more
than 23 minutes a night and that’s pretty incredible. Only 34 Defensemen in the
entire NHL averaged 23 minutes a night or more over the course of the entire
year. In fact, Oscar Klefbom averaged more Ice Time per game than every NHL
Rookie this past year.
That fact that he did that without a massive Power Play push
makes it even more impressive. Klefbom played almost a full minute more per
game at Even Strength than then the 2nd placed Rookie. Actually,
Oscar Klefbom had the 15th highest Time On Ice per Game at Even
Strength. Period. Not just for Rookies. I mean the 15th most for the
The Oilers didn’t just throw Klefbom to the wolves in the
sense that they gave him and his defensive partner the highest percentage of
Offensive Zone starts among blueliners. He had plenty of sugar time with RNH
and Eberle on the good side of the rink. That doesn’t mean it was easy to play
huge minutes as a Rookie, but at least they didn’t drown him in Defensive
Starts. We don’t know what the roster will look like next year or how Todd
McLellan will run this particular horse.
WHERE DOES THIS SEASON BELONG?
What we do know is that Oscar Klefbom’s last season put him
in pretty good company. There were just 6 other players who had similar seasons
over the last 10 years. Where a 21 year old Defenseman who was playing in his 1st
or 2nd season and produced as much offensively (between 0.3 and 0.4
points per game) as Klefbom the company is pretty good. It’s just:
Matt Niskanen 2007-2008: He of the 2nd most
minutes per game in the Playoffs for the Washington Capitals this year.
Jake Gardiner 2011-2012: Once upon a time a Maple Leaf Golden
child who is still a fancy stats leader on that team.
Travis Hamonic 2011-2012: Lead the Islanders in TOI/G this
Kris Russell 2008-2009: Almost 24 minutes a night for the
Alexandre Picard 2006-2007: Suh-WING an-a-miss
Roman Josi 2011-2012: Nashville’s Best Defenseman. Ahem.
Oscar Klefbom 2014-2015: Edmonton’s _______ Defenseman in
What we’re getting at is that this Klefbom kid just might be
a reason to smile.
He followed up this year with a good showing at the World
Championships playing for Sweden. His NHL coach has been replaced. His NHL GM
has been replaced. The mandate is clearly to upgrade the Defense but Klefbom isn’t
going to be a victim of this directive. He’s going to be a beneficiary. If
Chiarelli can acquire a veteran and impactful RHD to play with Oscar Klefbom
next season then what can we expect from him?
He has outperformed expectations every year. He’s been a regular
in the SHL since he was High School age. He bounced back from a lost season as
if it was nothing. He transitioned from the bottom pairing in the AHL to bottom
pairing of the NHL in his first North American season. He went from the bottom
pair to the top in 60 games as a Rookie. Can we know what the limits are on
this 21 year old kid?
I don’t think we can. And that makes me smile.