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Photo Credit: © Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Year in Review: Banking on an Oscar Klefbom rebound season is a good decision

This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season. 

2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 77: Oscar Klefbom

GP: 66 – G: 5, A: 16, PTS: 21

Oscar Klefbom’s breakout was one of the many things that went right in a magical 2016-17 season. He played in all 82 games, a great feat for a player who had struggled with injuries in every season since being drafted in 2011, and appeared to be on his way to reaching his potential as a top-pairing defenceman.

Klefbom’s breakout showing was a key reason why Peter Chiarelli felt comfortable not adding a replacement for Andrej Sekera, who was set to miss the first few months of the 2017-18 season following ACL surgery. Unfortunately, Klefbom struggled in an increased role in Sekera’s absence and got bit by the injury bug again. Klefbom played through the majority of 2017-18 with a bum shoulder and ultimately had his season cut short early as he went for surgery.

Just as Klefbom was a key reason why the Oilers excelled in 2016-17, he was a reason why the team failed in 2017-18.

That said, Klefbom’s disappointing 2017-18 season can largely be pinned on the nagging shoulder injury he played through. He was a noticeably different player this season than he was during his breakout campaign. It was noticeable on the power play as Klefbom wasn’t as effective in shooting from the point as he had been previously and it was noticeable in his defensive game as got pushed around in his own zone more than in the past.

His poor results are evident not only from the eye test but also in the numbers. Klefbom clearly didn’t have the same offence as he did in 2016-17 as he scored just five goals on the season. He also posted a 43.6 Goals For percentage, meaning he was on the ice for way more goals against at even strength than he was on for goals for. Digging a little deeper, virtually all of Klefbom’s partners performed better without him last season than they did with him.

Per Natural Stat Trick, he and Matt Benning, who was his most common partner, had a 47.7 GF% together while Benning had a 60.6 GF% with anybody else. He and Kris Russell posted a 36.8 GF% together and Russell posted a 45.9 without him. He and Adam Larsson had a 39.1 GF% together and Larsson had a 54.1 GF% without him. This wasn’t the case at all in 2016-17 as Klefbom and Larsson, who were together for virtually the entire season, posted a ridiculously-good 55.9 GF% over the span of 1063 even strength minutes.

There was a point in which it seemed inevitable that Klefbom would be traded. There was a weird situation going on in March in which Klefbom was sidelined shortly for a minor procedure and then brought back into the lineup for a series of games in front of other teams’ scouts before being shut down for the season. If the team wasn’t shopping him, they’d surely have just shut him down rather than bringing him back for that short showing following the procedure, right?

“The fact that they haven’t shut him down, I think, that’s leading to some belief that they are showcasing him,” said Elliotte Freidman. “If you want to trade something that can get you value in Edmonton, Klefbom might be the guy. And I think the fact that they haven’t shut him down when clearly he’s been playing with pain is leading to some wonder that he could be a guy that other teams are looking at.”

Selling Klefbom at a low point of value was a terrifying prospect. Chiarelli did something similar last summer with Jordan Eberle coming off of a poor showing during the team’s playoff run. But we’re into August now and it seems Klefbom is going to be back with the team next season. That’s a good thing.

After shutting him down early for surgery, the Oilers should have themselves a healthy Klefbom in 2018-19. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee he’s going to be as good as he was in 2016-17, but it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be closer to what he was in his breakout season than what he was during his poor, nagging injury 2017-18 season. Regardless, banking on a rebound season from Klefbom is a much, much more prudent decision than dumping him at his lowest point of value.

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  • Serious Gord

    We don’t know if it’s a good decision or not. Yet.

    What it is is it was practically the only decision. The options were/are all bad.

    For the past two seasons I have said the he is the hinge player – how his season goes will have the greatest impact of any skater on the team.

    This season I think it may be a toss up between him and sekera.

  • OriginalPouzar

    From accounts, his shoulder is now healthier than its been during his entire career as an Oiler and that is a wonderful thing.

    To me, his shoulder effected his entire game last year – of course, there was the physical limitations on his ability to shoot and battle but it changed the way he played in certain areas and led to mistakes which parlayed in to a lack of confidence and further poor decisions.

    A healthy Klefbom (and Larsson) is a wonderful player on a value contract.

    • Spydyr

      People are just lapping up the kool-aid this time of year. Everyone I know that has had shoulder surgery says it takes at least a year to come back fully. It would be prudent to expect a Sekera type return then Klefbom being the player he was for the best part of his career.

      • Hemmercules

        Agreed. I wouldn’t call it a good decision, more like the only decision other than trading him while his stock is super low. That said, these players have access to training and professionals to help them along quicker so I hope he’s ready to go. Lots of unknowns going into this season.

      • Redbird62

        Not all shoulder surgeries are the same. If it was a full rotator cuff repair that can take longer, but if is bone spurs and impingement repair, it is a lot less. I had the latter and by my 3rd cortisone shot before surgery, I could barely lift my arm above my shoulder and my shot was getting very weak. 5 days after surgery, I was doing physio, I was golfing in 6 weeks, and back playing hockey in 12 weeks. It would still occasionally get sore for the next several months, but I had full functionality and almost all of my strength (and I am a lot older the Klef and probably was not as driven in my recovery since my livelihood is not dependent on it). With full rotator cuff repair, physio doesn’t even start for 6 weeks. Based on what I read about his surgery it was not likely a full rotator cuff repair. Even for rotator cuff repair 6 months is considered the normal recovery period compared to 9 months or more for knee surgery. Expecting his recovery to be like Sekera’s in very pessimistic but that is how you roll.

  • Violentgent13

    Every year I bank on Oscar having “his” year but I honestly think this will be that year. Not only do WE need him too but he has to have a solid year to establish himself as the player everyone wants him too be.

    Also, if we were to trade him I would bet my future unborn child he’d have the season we all want from him and I wouldn’t want to give that satisfaction to anyone.

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • Jimmer

    A good power play generally has a threat from the point and the half boards. McDavid owning the half boards works great…the PP fails horribly if the penalty killers feel that shots from he point really don’t matter. We have not addressed that yet. Maybe with Bouchard in a few years…but right now Klefbom and Sekera scare no one.

  • Oilerup!

    I always here that you need to build through the draft….. especially defensemen!!!
    Glad to see that happening with Klefbom. You CANNOT give up on this player after the injury and high expection combinations and failure of last year. right now we have the foundation of a very good 1st and 2nd pairing and and rugged third pairing of defensemen we have been salivating for for years. This teams defence has a lot of moving parts when considering the condors…. let’s not screw it up by making trades that can be made WHEN/if we are closer to contending.
    Either Pete learned a lesson, or someone is holding his hand. Either way, the best move they made this off season (what off season) was not making a move on this player.
    BTW….. can you imagine having two big, mobile left and right shot d-man coming off the corners….. think of the options for guys like Conner, Dr Drai & NUUUUUUGGGE
    IMHO!

    • FISTO Siltanen

      Not sure the logic in this case but when they bench players and write off a season they are “embracing the tank” and when they play players who aren’t 100% they are “hopelessly naive” in thinking they’ll win.

      I prefer the latter as it at least suggests an interest in winning

      • DARYL G

        Never understood that as well. Thankfully Todd finally pulled his head out of his ass. Todd was a complete mystery last year, the team tanked and his use of players never seemed right. He stated at his press conference that they were rushing JP but all indications were contrary to that. Hopefully he can put it together this year.

        • Rob...

          Because the injury couldn’t get any worse. Because he’s a competitor that wanted to play through it. Because the other option was to bring up more d-men who either weren’t ready or a veteran that couldn’t even compete for a spot against an injured Klefbom. I’ll question a lot of things about coaching decisions last season but this issue is not nearly as baffling as many of the others from the season.

  • Rama Lama

    Expecting any player coming of a major injury to be able to “ hit the ground running”, is pure insanity. Our GM was expecting too much from Sekera’s return……..and we paid heavily for it. This is not a GM that one can take too seriously……..he seems to have no decernible plan for this team.

    I’m more interested in what he will do with Darnell Nurse? I say Darnell is a good physical defensive defenceman and should not be overpaid ( bridge contract should be reasonable) at this stage.

    I know I will probably get trashed, but I don’t think Darnell is ever going to be an offensive player. Might be a good idea to trade him sooner rather than later.

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      I agree with most of what you say. Expecting sekera to be his expected steady top 4 self after major surgery was a mistake by PC. Also agree that nurse should be bridged. Disagree with you assessment that he’s nothing more than a defensive Dman. He’s not gonna be a Karlsson Krug or OEL type of offensive Dman. He could easily be a physical 2 way Dman who get you 30-40 pts a year. Also why would you want to trade a guy who plays a tough physical game. Sticks up for his teammates fights and has a Chris Pronger type mean streak to his game. Nobody on the back end brings the skating ability toughness physicality and willingness to stick up for his team like nurse does. Last thing you want to do is trade a young still improving top 4 Dman with nurses skill set.

      • Big Nuggets

        I give two cheers for that comment Blackops. Nurse has elements to his game that most Oiler fans typically love. I’m surprised he gets as much heat from some fans as he does. Not to mention at 23 yrs of age and 210 NHL games played he is most certainly still developing. The ability he is developing to skate the puck out of the zone is most valuable in the playoffs when teams want to clog up the neutral zone. Also I’m not going to write off his offensive ability yet either as I have seen some flashes from him and he is working on offense with Oates this offseason. I think his 23 even strength points last season was pretty good considering he only played 36%(approx. I don’t remember exactly) icetime with McDavid, and its lot like he is getting a big boost from his defensive partners(no offense to Larsson).

        I would guess that his agent is advocating more PP time in the future for Nurse. Players get paid for points and I think Nurse believes in himself and expects to improve and get paid accordingly.

        The Nurse nay sayers point to his game fizzing out at the end of last season, but It is hard for any player to play well when the team collectively collapses. And regardless of the bad games he still took good steps in his personal game by taking on more responsibility and playing more minutes than ever before.

        As for what to expect next season, he has started every season so far better than the previous one, I expect that trend to continue.

      • Rama Lama

        Good Points, but since we are so close to the edge of our cap……tough decisions have to be made. I too love Darnell and would like him to stay but at what cost?

        A decent bridge deal should answer all the questions…..he will have time to showcase his offensive talents. My only concern is that he has never consistently showed any offensive acumen…….just saying.

        • NoBuBlackOPS

          How was he supposed to show offensive acumen his first year there were times he was playing on the right side and playing two high in the lineup due to injuries not exactly a recipe for delvloping offensive acumen is it. In his second year he was put in a position to succeed on the third pair in a sheltered roll and his game improved. Sure more points would have been great but you could say that about 90% of all nhl Dman. Last year he took another step forward played a bigger role on the team and handled him self well in that role. Majority of his points came at even strength he got very little PP time I believe. I think you’re being overly critical of a player who’s been in the league for only three years. Has improved each and every year. Was one of only a few oilers who did not regress and underperform last year.

    • Redbird62

      What is your bar for an offensive defenseman. He was ranked 45th in the league among defenseman this year in 5 on 5 points per 60. That is right on the edge of top quartile for all defenseman. Even if he never gets on the power play that is good offensive contribution from the back end.And I expect he will continue to improve.

      • Rama Lama

        For me it’s more than numbers……just do not see DN as a shooter. I think he can shoot but rarely does. He is not a pure passer so it would be hard to see him on the PP. He can skate it out occasionally.

        I see him as a very good shut-down physical defenceman. Outside of that I just do not see him as an offensive defenceman……..of course I would LOVE to be proven wrong.

        • BringitbacklikeSlats

          I really want to see the team succeed but I just don’t think Klefbom is a guy that you count on the way most seem to want to do on here. He’s just not that good sorry. Great tools… not such a great toolbox.

          Hate to say it but you can’t coach stupid out of a player. Nor courage into one. Guy need an ample helping of one and what I can only guess might be a labotomy for the other.
          I care not what his Corsi says… only that he’s a sieve defensively and I’m tired of watching him cost us and applombed with an almost cult like adoration from the math crowd. Barf

  • Abagofpucks

    Klef is a capable dman in my view if he is healthy im sure he will be able to do the job we need. We now know what was wrong with him last year hopefully hes fixed up and ready to go, Nothings for sure but i wouldnt bet against him.

  • CMG30

    Klefbom still has room for growth in his game. I’m virtually certain that he will rebound next season. The only worrying part for me is more injury troubles.

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