Beyond the Blue Horizon (Leftorium)

Oscar Klefbom blossomed last season, staying healthy, playing 82 games and scoring 38 points. Although the Oilers have been very successful in drafting impact forwards over the years (from Messier to McDavid), quality defensemen have been a very rare thing.

Klefbom’s emergence gives the Oilers a real advantage when it comes to the left side of the defensive depth chart. He’s signed long term to a contract that pays him a little over $4 million a year (value deal!) and his offensive potential appears to have been realized this past campaign. If he gets more power-play time, perhaps he can stretch that point total out to 45 or more. Klefbom is a vital cog at the position for the 2017-18 Oilers.

  1. Oscar Klefbom. There were some very interesting numbers last season for Oscar. His 162 shots at 5×5 ranked No. 4 overall among NHL defenders. Interesting that he ranked tied for No. 36 in power-play shots, meaning he wasn’t shooting a lot on the 5×4 despite playing over 200 minutes. We know he’ll play a primary top 4D role this coming season, probably alongside fellow Swede Adam Larsson. Klefbom’s power-play time may see him as more of a feature player in 2017-18.
  2. Andrej Sekera. His injury during the postseason cost the Oilers a lot in real time (Edmonton needed Sekera in all Anaheim games) and will impact the 2017-18 season, too. What we know about his injury is that recovery can take several months and it could be a calendar year from injury date before he’s 100 percent. Potentially massive impact on Oilers playoff hopes.
  3. Darnell Nurse. The injury to Sekera means Todd McLellan has to fill that second pairing with another option. Nurse is through draft+4 and is through two seasons as a regular in the NHL. In 2015-16, he was unable to play a feature role successfully (not surprising, that’s a big ask). In 2016-17, especially early, Nurse showed he could be a productive third pairing defenseman. Can he move up? That’s going to be a big story this fall, possibly all winter if Sekera struggles upon return.
  4. Yohann Auvitu. An astute free-agent signing by Peter Chiarelli, Auvitu’s strengths are best displayed when he has the puck on his stick. Excellent outlet passer, has a good and accurate shot and can get the puck through to the net. We’ll have to wait and see, a year from now Auvitu could be on to another town. That said, he’s skilled and the Oilers need just that thing on the back line.


Kris Russell is also an option, we’ll talk about him when we look at RHD. For me, I’d lean toward playing Russell with Matt Benning on that second pair, asking Nurse and Eric Gryba to pick up the third pairing until Sekera returns. We should also allow for a training camp move and or a PTO offer to someone like Jared Cowen. Ryan Stanton and Keegan Lowe may also see playing time in 2017-18.

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  • OriginalPouzar

    I think Oscar’s lower PP shots might be because he didn’t take over from Sekera on PP1 until mid-way though the year? That and they like the cross-ice down low pass as well as the pass to the middle (Drai).

  • OriginalPouzar

    I agree with Russell/Benning as the 2nd pairing to start.

    Russell is a left shot D and has historically been a more efficient puck mover on the left side – I’d like him on the left side if possible – this means more games for Gryba which isn’t ideal but that is what the 7D is for.

    Auvitu is the wild card – if he shows well and gets in the lineup, it likely moves Russell over the right side and Grybs to the press box.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    I think Nurse might show he’s ready for more of a feature role this year, and we will be thankful he did arrive just when he did. I know the lefty-righty thing is against him, but sometimes you simply kick the door down and announce your arrival. I could see that happening for him…soon.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    That’s a thin d…but you’re so STACKED up front…y’know, in a different world we’d be ideal trading partners.

    A very, very different world.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      that “thin D” as you put it got us 47 wins and 103 points last season, better than the so called “best D” in the league, proof positive that if you have the correct mix and the players actually listen to what the coach and his staff have to say, good things can happen !

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        Oh, we did NOT have the best d in the league last season. We had three top d men and then some dudes hoping for the best. This year? We’ll see.

        But I do believe your goaltending and forwards got you the wins. That’s what happened when you played us.

        • HardBoiledOil 1.0

          so you’re not giving any credit at all to a pretty rock solid defence? the lack of star power back there goes against your thinking that you need stars to be able to win? our D is the best i have seen it since 2006 and won us many games last season!

        • Dan 1919

          The Flames D is similar to the Oilers, a solid playoff d-core, far from the best in the league.

          It’s just because of our markets that things get so overhyped here, whether it be Eberle being this great star that the rest of the league actually doesn’t want, or it be the Flames having the best D in the league and getting swept. I wouldn’t get my hopes up about Hamonic either, there’s a reason Chiarelli wouldn’t trade Hall for him.
          In all honesty, if someone says the Oilers have weak defence, then the Flames could have the most overrated defence in the league,

        • pkam

          Last year’s SC champ Penguins had probably the worst defense in the playoff. They won the cup with no 1st pair defenseman and only one RHD in Justin Schultz. Who would think Dumoulin and Hainsey being your top pair can win the SC?

        • NoBuBlackOPS

          I have to disagree with you about the oilers D. You don’t go from a -42 goal differential in 15/16. To a +35 in 16/17 with out your D taking a massive step forward. Ya the FWDs and talbot played a huge part but the D was equally important to the oilers success last year.

        • Nanook

          The defence grew as the year went on for sure. We were finished playing Calgary mid season I believe and Cam did steal a lot of those wins early. The D slowly just kept getting better and better and we really saw them start playing solid hockey the last 20 games or so where the team really started to look more complete. Side note, I got all day for flames fans like this one, Can have a decent banter back and forth and maintain a rivalry is good stuff. You should have a chat with your buddy HOCKEYFAN and show him how its done.

      • FuNky ANGER

        I hardly doubt that your “D” got you “ALL” of those 47 wins and 103 points. It would be more accurate so say the team got 47 wins and 103 points. The Oilers had a great Forward corps/Goaltending with Defense being the weakest link; which has been the case for the Oilers for awhile now.

        You can have the best “D” in the league (Not saying the Flames do) and still not be a great team if your goalies go on streaks where they can’t stop a beachball and your forwards can’t put the puck in the net.

        • HardBoiledOil 1.0

          sorry but you are wrong! the Oilers defense is fine and the reason why Chia has decided to go with basically the same guys he went with last year. and who the hell said the Oilers defense got the Oilers “all” of their wins last season? sorry Lames fans but you don’t have to have a D full of stars to have a great D if the players you brought in to play that position actually know how to do it well and the Oilers D now does! this idea of the Oiler defense still being “their weakest link” is absolute garbage and BS ! it simply isn’t true but opposing teams fans just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that the Oilers D is now sound after being helter skelter for a decade. and yes indeed it did take a TEAM effort to get to game 7 of the 2nd round and win 47 games and get 103 points, but unfortunately for you the Oilers defense played a big part in that.

        • btrain

          That’s what’s interesting to me about the flames. You get a goaltender who proved he was quite capable of playing with a solid D group, he comes to another supposed solid D group and he’s mediocre at best. It’s definitely possible that Elliot just regressed on his own but that is 4 goalies over 2 seasons that have been rather unremarkable despite having good D. So either the D are not as solid as people, including myself, thought or there is a systems/coaching problem. The flames should make their tenders look better than they are not worse. Guess we shall see what our nemesis Smith can do for them but I think there may be something deeper than goaltending going on.

    • Jordan88

      Yeah I think you live in a different world. Edmonton’s Defence was brilliant last year, our goals against went from 3rd worst in the league to be in the top 10. We have two brilliant defencemen that could easily be top 20 this time next year in the league. We also have have Adam Larsson, He won’t lead in any scoring categories but I would not want to be a winger charging up his side along the boards. I think Larsson was 8th in hits across the NHL. Then we have NHL Journeyman Sekera, He makes few if any mistakes and can contribute offensively. What was Edmontons game changer? Kris Russell, every so called sports writer thinks he can’t play yet he was there every night often back checking hard, blocking shots and chipping the puck out. He plays a very simple game of hockey but he plays it flawlessly.

      Meanwhile everyone was gaga over Hamonic and pissed when Calgary got him. I am not a fan of +/- it is in its nature a very simple and flawed stat. But Hamonic was the worst +/- player on his team last year and for a defenseman that is a very telling stat.

      • DerpSolo

        One stat that jumps out at me is that our shots allowed improved drastically, and our shots for. Talbot didn’t always have to stand on his head to get the Oilers a win. I think Oilers have a tough, physical D, with Klef of course being the most offensive of them all. I think the flames have the most offensively minded D core, with gio and Hamilton and hamonic, and even Brodie. Goaltending is still a problem tho, but maybe old man smith can help with that

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        I look at your improved stats differently. While they are positives, I attribute it mainly to the fact that it was hard to get the puck from your forwards. 😀

        Additionally, that kind of dramatic improvement over one off season rings alarms for me. I don’t think you can make those claims about your d after one season of success.

        As for Hamonic, I wasn’t gaga over that, nor was I disappointed. I’m completely neutral until he proves himself or doesn’t in our colours.

        The biggest problem is Russell, though, I think. He does play his game “flawlessly”, but if a team needs his kind of game then it’s a commitment to play in the defensive zone. Plus, that’s a lot of money for a player that isn’t going to age like wine.

        • DerpSolo

          Yah, I wasn’t too excited for the russel signing. I do think it’s a lot of money for a older player. But I think he earned it, he led the league in BLKs, and obviously PC like that. He helped us get to the playoffs, and in oil country that hasn’t happened in awhile, so I’m good with him sticking around. Let’s see if he can prove he’s worth the contract

        • NoBuBlackOPS

          @Bringthefire2.0 i agree with you about it being hard to get the puck off of the FWDs. But with out a D core able to move the puck from the D zone up to these FWDs. The FWDs don’t get the opportunity to do that.

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      Only other one to have a breakthrough as you put would be nurse. Kelfbom broke through last year finally staying healthy and putting up 38pts. I think it’s unrealistic to expect a big improvement over what he did last year. I also don’t Larsson having a large increase in pts over his 19 from last year not that he needs to have a successful season. A repeat of last year for pts I’m fine with plus his sold physical play is all we need from him. I also don’t see Russell or Sekara having a breakthrough year with sekara coming off injury. And Russell never being a dominant d man pluse his age a breakthrough year seems very unlikely for him. All your left with is nurse and Benning either one or both taking a good step forward is a great thing for the oilers. And why wouldn’t you want Benning to breakthrough the better he does most likely the better the team does.

    • Oilerchild77

      Over a whole season, I agree. Not that I think he will NEVER be ready for top-4 minutes. Just not yet. He’s only played most of one season so far. Too early to be feeding him top-4 minutes. That’s what this Auvituu will help with… hopefully.

  • OilCan2

    The D roster should be set coming out of camp. I for one am looking forward to pre season where Caleb and Ethan get a chance to skate in the BIGS. There has to be one dark horse via free agency, PTO or the young prospects like Paigyn (sp?).

    • OriginalPouzar

      The darkhorse free agents are Franson and Wideman.

      Jones and Bear will definitely each get at least one pre-season game but they are 13/14 on the current depth chart – they need at least a year in the AHL each before they are ready for even a cup of coffee in the NHL.

      I sure hope we aren’t depleted enough where we need to rush either of those players in to action in the NHL.

  • Roberto

    I hope Lowe doesn’t see playing time… Even if he was good enough for it, it still looks bad, and this is supposed to be the NHL, not a minor hockey team where the coaches kids make the team and plays the lead role regardless of skill. Further, I haven’t seen Lowe play in a few years, but when he was with the Oil Kings (as a younger player), he was outclassed and likely shouldn’t have been on that team at the time…

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      Can’t see this being another Will Acton incident…there is no doubt it was nepotism to bring him in the system but I have faith that this is Chia’s and TMac’s team….on the flip side of this if he turns out to be a good player the name on the back does not matter. ie Benning, could have been seen as an old Oilers move but he proved it wasn’t.

  • TKB2677

    Can someone explain to me what the love affair is with this Auvitu and guys like Lowetide? He’s got 25 career NHL games. That’s it. The Devils who are a bad team and are in need of defense let him walk. It’s not like the Oilers paid massive money for him. I looked it up, the NHL league minimum is 650K so they are barely playing him above minimum wage. I am not knocking the guy, nor do I have an opinion on him because I know nothing about him. I just wonder how someone can say it was an astute signing when he really hasn’t played in the NHL.

    I looked up Cowen, he’s left and says he’s retired on TSN. If he’s retired, why would he come in on a PTO.

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      He fills the role left by Reinhart, if he shows well in camp he will split time with Gryba. I think Simpson can probably challenge him for the spot. So I agree with you, not sure where all the love is coming from, is Lowetide French?

    • Jaxon

      I’m with you on this one. I don’t see any statistical evidence at any level of his career that he is a decent puck mover. That should show up with some points at some level. Also, he’s 28 years old (I think his growth is pretty much done besides maybe a bit of North America adjustment) and still hasn’t cracked an NHL lineup, even on a terrible team. Nurse and Gryba both scored at roughly the same 5-on-5 rate. 5-on-5 Primary Pts / 60 last season:
      Philip Larsen: .5445
      Auvitu: .5438
      Nurse: .5369
      Gryba: .5134
      He didn’t score well in Liiga, Jr Liiga, or even Mestis (whatever that is).
      His best season in Liiga as a 26 year old had an NHLE of 10pts. He’s not big or physical, and I don’t think he’s known for his defensive prowess. I just don’t get the love.

  • QuitForRealThisTime

    Interesting that the argument is here is better defense vs better offense and a goalie ….irony being the Stanley cup finals actually reflected this very thing. I still think that NSH possesses the best d core in the league while the Pens still have the best forward group. Here’s hoping the BAO reflects the same results as the finals did.

  • Reinman

    Honestly why Eberle was not packaged with a draft pick or 2 and traded for Hamonic, I will never know. Our defense would be solid with him added. I would say with him, we are a Bonifide stanley cup contender. Klefbom-Larsson, Russell/Hamonic, Nurse/Benning is a solid way to start the season. Then when Sykera comes back, it makes things difficult, but that is a good problem to have, as they say. Russell probably drops to the third pairing, leaving Benning and Nurse to fight for a spot. Or maybe we trade Russell, when Sykera comes back.

      • geeker99

        I must be old school, I feel the job of a d-man first is to keep the puck out of the net. One move that I still don’t get was the Smid trade. When that sitcom “Oil Change” was on, they lost against the Nucks and he lost it in the room. Time invested in a rebuild is huge in players, and to trade him to Calgary? Heartbreaking.