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Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Oscar: An afterthought no more

Colten Teubert was supposed to be the big return when the Edmonton Oilers traded Dustin Penner to the Los Angeles Kings back on Feb. 28, 2011. Out went Penner and in came Teubert, a tough, lanky B.C. boy who’d played for the Regina Pats of the WHL, along with a mid-first-round draft pick and a third-rounder.

At the 2011 Entry Draft, all the headlines around here were about the Oilers stepping to the podium with the first overall pick for the second straight summer (Taylor Hall in 2010) and selecting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Red Deer Rebels. Considerably less ink was spilled over Swedish blueliner Oscar Klefbom, taken with the 19th selection — the first-round pick the Oilers got from the Kings in the Penner deal months before.

Teubert played just 24 games with the Oilers, then went to play in Germany after having his career sidetracked here by concussion issues. Russian forward Danil Zharkov, taken 91st overall in the 2012 Entry Draft with that third-round pick from L.A., never got a sniff. He’s in the KHL. Nugent-Hopkins, or course, is still wearing Oiler silks and trying to find his place in the mix behind marquee men Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who have started to turn Edmonton’s fortunes around the way he, Hall and Jordan Eberle never managed to.

Then, there’s Klefbom. Now entering his primetime playing years at the age of 24, he has gone from being a secondary piece in the Penner trade and second-banana on his draft day to developing into the bonafide No. 1 D-man the Oilers have been lacking for what seems like forever. The big lad from Karlstad with a head for the game and that booming shot from the point is an afterthought no more.

PRIMETIME

Mar 23, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) takes a shot on goal in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Slowed by injuries, including a nasty staph infection, during his first three seasons, there were more than a few questions about Klefbom – at least his ability to stay healthy and how that might impact his development – during that stretch. A lot of that went away last season when Klefbom played all 82 games for the Oilers in their top pairing, a campaign in which he had 12-26-38 and finished fifth in Lady Byng Trophy voting with just six PIM.

In Thursday’s 5-4 win over the Dallas Stars, Klefbom played a game-high 27:39, including more than four minutes on both the power play (4:18) and penalty kill (4:06), blocked five shots and pumped three shots at Ben Bishop. While Klefbom didn’t get a point against the Stars, which has been par for the course for him to start this season – he has just 0-2-2 in nine games – he continues to be the go-to guy and a workhorse on a shorthanded blueline.

Klefbom, again partnered with Adam Larsson as he was for his breakout campaign a year ago, leads the Oilers in average ice time at 24:27 per game, which leaves him 20th in the NHL. The points aren’t coming as he’d like them to – you can say that about just about everybody on the roster right now – and he’s had his lapses, as everyone has during a so-so start, but his evolution into a top-pairing guy is undeniable, no?

“When you first start in this league, you want to keep it simple and play a solid defensive game, but I’ve been here a couple of years now and I have a lot of confidence now,” Klefbom said at the start of this season. “I told myself last year to shoot the puck a lot and it was effective, right? And, obviously, when you play with a lot of good guys on the ice, it helps. I just want to play my game and develop even more of my offence.”

In a 3-0 win over the Calgary Flames to open the season, Klefbom had 15 shot attempts and nine shots on goal. He’s been that threat from the point the power play has lacked in recent seasons, even if the PP has been on-again-off-again in the early going. Klefbom had 201 shots on goal in 2016-17. He’s well ahead of that pace with 28 so far this season. That comes as no surprise to coach Todd McLellan.

“His approach has increased immensely,” McLellan said. “His maturity, his goal setting. The homework that he does. The stuff that he asks for from the coaching staff, saying ‘Hey, I need to look at this.’ That didn’t necessarily happen a couple of years ago, so he’s taken that step. He’s a lot like Connor, he wants to get better. The shot totals? Why not? It’s on his tape, it’s off his tape. Why not have 250 shots?”

THE WAY I SEE IT

The Oilers have been up and down in the early going and so has Klefbom. It hasn’t helped the blueline group that Andrej Sekera has been out, but those are the cards that have been dealt. Maybe GM Pete Chiarelli looks for some help before Sekera gets back if the team doesn’t get untracked, but he need not cast any glances at his first pairing. There’s not a problem there.

So, how good can Klefbom be? Is there more top-end in him? On the first count, I don’t know the answer. On the second, my eyes tell me the answer is yes. What I do know is that it’s going to be fun finding out as this season unfolds and the Oilers get things straightened out — as I expect they will. An afterthought no more, this kid.

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  • CaptainCanada94

    It is amazing how good d-men can look when they are slotted in their actual proper pairing. For years Oilers tried to force guys to be number 1/number 2 defencemen.

    Finally the Oilers have a legit top 6, which will only improve when Sekera returns. Hoping Benning can turn a corner as well and add consistency to his game.

    Long live the days where Oilers defencemen had to shut down the other teams top players and score 60+ points. Also the added pressure of GM saying he will win the Norris…#schultz

    • OriginalPouzar

      Your first sentence is exactly why the acquisition of Larsson was actually more beneficial than just Larsson the player in isolation – he bumped every other d-man down the depth chart (except Klef).

      How amazing is it to have Sekera as the anchor on a 2nd pairing as opposed to relied on in the first pairing?

      That is the issue we are seeing with Sekera out, every d-man below him has been asked to play a spot up the lineup and, up and till now, only Nurse isn’t really struggling with the added responsibilities/minutes and is, in fact, excelling. Gryba has played well, generally, but he struggles when he plays every game – he was good last night after getting a game off.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Oscar is turning in to a bit of minute-muncher as well – played almost 28 minutes last night.

    He’s still a bit inconsistant in all aspects of the game but is much more “good” than “bad” and, when he is skating and moving the puck and defencing, he is a great d-man.

    $4.167M for, what, 6 more years?

    Great re-sign by Chiarelli.

  • Oiler Al

    Seems to me that McLellans system or maybe its the forwards themselves dont often enough encompass the defense men in the zone attack? Dont see the puck sent back to the”D” often enough like some other teams.

    • Thanks for mentioning this. Colten’s wife needs brain surgery and he’s staying home in Washington to take of the children right now. He’s not playing hockey and is looking for work to help support the family during this difficult time.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Last year he missed the net 81 times, only once/game – a very low number given how often he shoots.

      This year has been a different story, he’s already in the low 20s but its likely a function of whatever the “bump or bruise” that he has. He proved last year to be quite good at hitting the net.

  • Great draft pick by the Oilers during the decade of darkness. He and Larsson aren’t quite looking as sharp as they were last year but I think that will come. They just look a little tentative on the breakouts and not able to make as many effective plays. It will come (along with that shot accuracy I hope)