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Photo Credit: erry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Klefbom the Key?

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.

QUICK HITS…

  • 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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

    • Oil_in_the_Desert

      Is there a statistical site that details the amount of disallowed goals? Cleary, I’m a homer, but it sure seems like the Oil had a ton of disallowed goals this past season.

  • geoilersgist

    Klefbom and the entire d-core for the Oilers is underrated. They get no respect from anyone. Klefbom has been unreal this year and deserves a lot of praise. Is it game time yet?!?!?!?

  • Druds

    I still don’t think people understand how incredible this season has been. We were horrible last year and in 29th place . I still think this is a dream ….

    • Oil_in_the_Desert

      No question this season is incredible. However, Oilers lost 22 games by a single goal last year plus another 6 by 2 goals with an empty-netter. If they get just half of those available 56 points from those games, they’d have had 98 points and been in the playoffs. And, I think we all know how many man games lost to injury the Oilers suffered last year – predominately by top 6 forwards and top 4 defensemen. Either way, glad they are all healthy now and winning those 1 goal games.

  • mike engel

    Hey Jason, remember the bumper sticker a few years ago that said: Dear God: Please send us one more oil boom. This time we promise we won’t piss it away!
    The same can apply to the Oilers. We fans became complacent with the run of Stanley Cups. Ho hum. We will win it again.
    This time, we should appreciate what is being built here, and not take things for granted.

    • D

      Oh man, this comment a million times over. I remember in 1988, some of my friends didn’t even watch Game 4 because winning had become so hum drum. I got complacent and used to it as well, thinking “this will never end”. Won’t be making that mistake again after a 27 year wait.

    • CrazyCoach

      I said this numerous times this past two seasons. I’m going to enjoy every minute Connor McDavid plays in an Oilers uniform. As someone who has had to live in BC and witness the last 5 cups from afar, and often not seeing them until the second round (or when the Canucks crapped the bed annually), I love being able to see every game. I took Gretzky for granted thinking he would play his whole career in Edmonton. Not this time

  • TKB2677

    With Gryba, you know what you are getting with him. You know his strengths and weaknesses and you can game plan around the weaknesses. You know he’s going to struggle with foot speed and he’s a bang it off the glass type for puck moving. You know he will be tough, physical, nasty. You know he will break up the cycle, clear the front of the net and kill penalties.

    With Benning, we don’t which Benning will come. I think he will be a good dman but lately he is playing timid, he looks unsure of himself, he seems to be getting lost in the defensive zone and he is losing one on one battles.

    The playoffs are a war, you need warriors in there and you can’t afford to have a non confident dman playing a bit timid and losing battles.

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    I’m thrilled with his offensive upside particularly on the PP. I do however believe he is possibly the weakest of our top 4 in shutting down quality attacker. Not by a lot, but he’s going to be learning on the fly just how much more phyical he’s going to need to become. He has a tendency to not finish checks and it’s may cost us dearly if the message doesn’t get through to him. I’ll take it all day long with what he does well but hopefully his confidence isn’t shaken early. Larsen has stepped up to cover for him all year, and I don’t imagine that will change now.

      • Joseph Smith

        To add, there are ways to be effective defensively without being overly physical. Hjalmarsson, Stralman are some examples. Body and stick positioning as well as anticipating plays are Klefbloms strengths, forcing him to play a different playstyle could be more detrimental

        • BringitbacklikeSlats

          There’s overly physical and then there’s just physical… Oscars plenty strong and fast enough. If you don’t think the coaches aren’t going to be preaching the boys to finish their checks then I’m not sure you’re on point.
          Your assertion that one of his great strengths is antication Is one that frankly I see as one of his few deficiencies. His gap control is often FAR too big, and he has trouble recognizing dangerous plays where he is just too late in his coverage.
          He’s a young player and still improving. It’s why the coaches forgoe him on the PK in favour of the other 3 more sure footed Defensive options. I have no doubt he’s going to be an excellent 2 way defenseman, but he’s not been battle tested yet, and still has a ways to go in his own end. The greatest thing being that he can learn that. You can’t teach what he has for offensive weapons so I’m not worried beyond this post season. It’ll be a great learning experience for him and the ilother guys that haven’t experienced the amped up pace that is NHL playoff hockey.

  • Serious Gord

    He’s not THE key but he is a key. McDavid is THE key – if San Jose can get in his head, frustrate him, hit him and by doing so put him off his game then it is highly unlikely that the rnh/eberle line is going to fill the void.

    I’m not saying that San Jose will succeed at the above just that that is what they will be keying on – not klefbom.

  • Jaxon

    I think, if he’s not in the top 15 elite defenders, he is definitely pushing the argument and getting close. Look at his 5-on-5 primary points per 60 over the last 2 seasons (min. 1600 minutes even strength).

    https://puckalytics.com/#/skaters?orderby=iprimarypoints60&sortorder=true&season=201517&situation=5v5&TOIMin=1600&Pos=D&dgoals=false&dcorsi=false&dpcts=false&dtm=false&dopp=false&dreltm=false&drel=false&dind=true&dpctteam=false&dzs=false&GPMin=0&GPMax=999&TOIDecMin=0&TOIDecMax=99999&Team=&Player_Name=

    1. Brent Burns (1.17)
    2. Erik Karlsson (0.93)
    3. John Carlson (0.86)
    4. Dustin Byfuglien (0.85)
    5. Victor Hedman (0.83)
    6. Oscar Klefbom (0.82)

    That is elite company.