Patience is a virtue when it comes to waiting on prospects to develop. History tells us that’s especially true – the reality is it’s much easier to talk about than to actually put into practice — when it comes to bringing along young defencemen looking to establish themselves in the NHL. It’s been no different for Oscar Klefbom of the Edmonton Oilers.
So, after 107 games over parts of three seasons watching Klefbom make his way along the development curve, a journey slowed by injury, there was a fair bit of excitement in 2016-17 after he played all 82 games for the Oilers, amassing 12-26-38. It looked like he’d arrived – early, if you believe it takes 300 games for young D-men to find their game. Klefbom looked like a legitimate first-pairing guy and the power play quarterback the Oilers needed. He was worth the wait.
Well, not so fast. In what became a familiar and frustrating refrain around here last season, Klefbom took a big step back due mainly to a nagging left shoulder that limited him to 66 games and ended his season early because he needed surgery to repair the problem. His numbers (5-16-21), like his play, fell off. Now, as is the case with so many of his teammates who pushed the Oilers into the second round of the playoffs in 2016-17, he’s looking for a bounce back season.
HURRY UP AND WAIT
Klefbom, who turns 25 this Friday, went under the knife last March 22 to clean up a previous surgery on his shoulder. While it wasn’t enough of an aggravation to keep him out of many games, it was a constant factor when he did play – at both ends of the ice. He simply wasn’t the same player who put up 38 points, including 3-13-16 from the point on the power play. This past season, he managed just one goal and six points with the Oilers on the man-advantage.
Defensively, he wasn’t the same steady player it looked like he’d become in tandem with Adam Larsson. Klefbom is never going to win a Norris Trophy based on his defensive play, but he wasn’t as good in his own end last season. It’s difficult to win one-on-one battles for the puck or to stake out position in front of the net with one arm tied behind your back. That was the case for Klefbom.
“Me and Larsson played a hell of a season last year,” Klefbom told reporters last March. “We showed everyone we are a (pairing) to count on. When we play good hockey we can get within a game of a conference final. I want to get back to that, but then I have to be 100 per cent. I cannot go back and be 75 per cent, stay out of battles, and wait. I have to be 100 per cent.”
Klefbom actually took more shots in the 66 games he played last season than he did in 82 games the previous season, 203 to 201, and averaged more ice time, 22:51 to 22:22, while playing through the injury – he had a cortisone shot during the year. At the same time, his shooting percentage last season dropped to 2.5 per cent from 6.0 the previous season. For what it’s worth, he dropped from being a plus-7 to a minus-12. Simply put, he wasn’t the same.
While Klefbom is expected to be ready for training camp, there’s almost always a lag between being healthy enough to play and being back to 100 per cent. How quickly that happens, or doesn’t, is going to be the most significant factor if Klefbom is to bounce back and look like the player everybody saw playing effectively alongside Larsson in 2016-17.
If he’s healthy, I don’t see any reason why Klefbom can’t return to the form fans waited to see. If Klefbom (and Larsson, who had to cope with the death of his father during the season) can contribute offensively on the power play and at even-strength as he did two seasons ago, the blueline group has a chance to be adequate. If Klefbom takes half-a-season to get back to where he was, or can’t get there at all, this group has no chance to be good enough and that means GM Pete Chiarelli has a problem.
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