Oscar Klefbom has emerged as the Oilers #1 defenceman. He isn’t one of the top-15 #1 defenders in the game yet, but he took a big step this season and he will need to play a major role if the Oilers expect to have playoff success.
Klefbom played the most minutes for the Oilers this season. He led their blueline with 12-26-38 and he played around 35% of his time at EV against elite players.
He’s quietly had an excellent season and he needs to continue it when he makes his playoff debut tomorrow.
Klefbom has become a threat in the offensive zone. He has a cannon of a shot and he’s worked hard at getting it off quicker and using it more often. He had 201 shots on goal. Andrej Sekera was second on the blueline with 128 while Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse (in only 44 games) were tied for third with 85. Klefbom has become the Oilers best offensive threat from the blueline, and in the playoffs where we see more traffic in front, his ability to get shots on goal will become even more valuable.
His 12 goals were tied for 13th in the NHL among defenders in the regular season, but he is eighth among defenders who are still alive in the playoffs. He will need to continue to be an offensive threat, while also remaining solid defensively.
He and Larsson, along with Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell, face similar competition. Both pairs will be relied on to try and contain Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and the rest of the Sharks top offensive players.
Klefbom’s improved play down the stretch has seen his coach increase his minutes. In the final 13 games of the season Klefbom averaged just under 24 minutes, and don’t be surprised if McLellan leans on him even more in the playoffs.
“He’s really blossomed. He’s confident and we’ve been playing him more because of how well he’s been playing. He’s deserving of the ice time so we are comfortable using him that much,” said McLellan.
Outside of improving his consistency in the defensive zone, the biggest improvement in his game that I’ve seen is his involvement in the offensive zone. He gets his shot off quicker, and more importantly, he’s reading the play better in the offensive zone. He is putting himself into positions where he can use his shot.
“We talked to our backend about shooting more throughout the season. A lot is generated from the blueline — look at San Jose, in creating opportunities for the forwards. It (shooting more) was mentioned, but he took it to heart and you can tell by how he is leading our team in that area.”
Klefbom’s improved play is also due to him being in the lineup every night. Last season very difficult on him. His season basically ended in December, and during January to March, every time he felt he was close to returning, the staph infection in his ankle wouldn’t subside and he remained out.
No player will improve without playing, and it isn’t a coincidence that Klefbom’s offensive breakthrough was combined with his ability to stay in the lineup every night. He gained more confidence, he felt more comfortable, and his play in the final month of the season has given the Oilers a true top-pairing defender in both ends of the rink for the firs time since Sheldon Souray patrolled the blueline.
- Kris Russell had six points in the final ten games of the season. He was a dynamic scorer in junior and he’s had five 21+ point seasons in his career. The last few seasons he’s been mainly a defensive defender, but the coaches have been urging him to get more involved in the offence and he’s tried to rediscover his offence. “I feel I can contribute offensively, I just needed to be more assertive. Get more shots on goal, and jump into more holes. It has worked out lately. In the playoffs you need guys other than your top guys to score. We all need to chip in,” said Russell. His main job is to play sound defence, but with his speed and his shot he has the skills to help out offensively. Russell has 17 shots in the past 10 games. He only had 51 in his first 58 this season. He’s become much more involved offensively and that’s been a big boost to the offence.
- At first glance in practice, it looked like Matt Benning would play tomorrow, but the more I watched it looked like Eric Gryba was taking more reps and considering Benning was out late after practice, it looks like Gryba will start tomorrow. I really like Benning’s game, but I’d go with Gryba to start the playoffs. He’s played well in a #6 role and it allows the Oilers not to pair up two playoff rookies in their third pairing.
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