Oscar Klefbom played the most minutes of any Oilers skater in 2016/2017. He had a career year in every aspect.
He was healthy for an entire season for the first time in his career, dressing in all 82 games.
He set career highs in goals, assists and points, scoring 12-26-38, and did it all while facing many of the NHL’s best forwards and defenders.
So what should we expect from Klefbom this season?
If he had a carbon copy of last season, I’d guess Oilersnation and the Oilers would be happy, but I do believe there is still room for Klefbom to improve.
Staying healthy was huge for his psyche. He and I spoke about it just before the playoffs, and while he felt the infection in 2015/2016 was just bad luck, he did say it was important to know he could play an entire season. Now he’s done it, and while most injuries aren’t preventable, it is a good sign for any player with previous injuries to skate through an entire season without missing any significant time.
Klefbom is still very young for an NHL defender. His $4.167 million cap hit places him as the 69th highest paid defender in the NHL, and only four players making more are younger than Klefbom.
Aaron Ekblad is 21 with a $7.5 million cap hit until June of 2025. Hampus Lindholm is 23 with a $5.205 million cap hit until June of 2022, while Seth Jones and Rasmus Ristolainen each carry a $5.4 million cap hit and both turn 23 in October.
Klefbom turned 24 in July and is under contract until June of 2023. He has one of the best value contracts in the NHL, and as he develops that deal will only look better.
Here’s where he ranked among D-men last season:
33rd in points with 38.
18th in goals with 12.
Ninth in shots on goal with 201
39th in TOI/game (time on ice) at 22:22.
22nd in overall TOI at 1834:21
28th in PP TOI at 207:02 ( 2:31/game)
26th in EV TOI at 1489:49 (18:10/game)
His most impressive stat was his discipline. He only took three minor penalties all season, which was 235th among NHL defenders and 662 overall among skaters.
He played the 22nd most minutes in the NHL, mostly against the other team’s top forwards and defenders, but he was only 662nd in minor penalties taken. Impressive.
Klefbom isn’t overly physical, but I don’t recall him shying away from contract or losing too many battles because he wasn’t aggressive. He uses his size and strength and takes good angles to avoid penalties. And it wasn’t just a one-year anomaly. In his first 107 NHL games prior to last season, he only had five minor penalties. In 189 career games he has taken eight minor penalties.
Expecting him to stay out of the box in 2017/2018 won’t be expecting much.
Where can he improve?
He’s only played 201 games, including playoffs, so he still has lots of room to grow.
I believe he has more offensive potential 5×5. He was 54th in EV scoring among defenders last year, and he was 20th in PP scoring. He started to use his above average slapshot more last season and I think we will see him find more opportunities to use it in the future. He has room to grow in relation to creating and producing more in the offensive zone.
He and Adam Larsson played very well together, and he played 1080 of his 1406 5×5 minutes with Larsson. Todd McLellan would prefer to keep them together, as continuity is a huge advantage for any defensive pairing. I presume he will improve simply from having more playing time with Larsson as those two learn more about one another.
However, if McLellan has to split them up, Klefbom would most likely then play with Matt Benning. They played 131 minutes together last season. It’s a small sample size, but they had very good numbers, including a 55% Fenwick For (104-85) and a very good SF-SA at 82-61.
Ideally, the Oilers won’t need to separate the Klefbom/Larsson pairing and they will be their clear cut #1 pair. Last season, Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell faced very similar competition as Klefbom/Larsson, but with Sekera on the shelf for at least two months, likely more, Klefbom and Larsson should see a bump in their icetime.
Klefbom is in great shape (as seen in Baggedmilk’s regular posts of pictures of Klefbom’s abs on the Oilersnation twitter and Instagram page). He is big and strong enough to handle a few extra minutes, and as he continues to gain more experience I believe he will be able to handle the increased minutes successfully.
I think Klefbom is more than capable of moving into the top-20 in scoring among NHL defenders. He was 33rd last season and if he can score 43-45 points that would slot him around 15th to 20th based on the past few seasons.
His offensive prowess on the PP will also improve. He’d only played 83 PP minutes prior to last season. He didn’t have much PP experience at the NHL level before scoring 3-13-16 on the PP last year. The Oilers powerplay was very good last year and with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl running the first unit, and it should once again be top-five in the NHL. As Klefbom gains more confidence in his shot, and getting in positions to use his shot and releasing it quicker, there is no reason to believe he can’t score 20 PP points this year.
The one area he can improve is his reads. Much of that can come from experience, but it is no guarantee more experience guarantees he will make the right read more often. Part of that is experience and part is just hockey sense. It is too early to say for sure what is holding him back from making the right reads most of the time like the top-end defenders. Reads are not just one-on-one plays where a player gets exposed.
Klefbom’s age, contract and ability make him one of the most important players in Edmonton moving forward. I believe he is their best chance to develop into a true #1 defender. He is already a top-pair defender, but he has the size, skill and ability to become a top-15 defender in the NHL.
If he can score 45 points and continue to play the tough minutes, he will put himself in the conversation as one of the top-25 defenders in the NHL this season.
Will Klefbom improve his offence? Can he become a top-20 defender?
- Matt Hendricks signed a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets last weekend. The Oilers needed to open a spot for Jujhar Khaira or Iiro Pakarinen and Hendricks knew when he left Edmonton in May he wasn’t going to return to the Oilers. I spoke to him this week and one of his answers really stood out for me. His response to not playing in the playoffs made it clear to me why his teammates respected him so much. You can read it here.
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