At the end of October, while watching the Edmonton Oilers beat the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime, I had two immediate thoughts. First, the Edmonton Oilers are potent in the 3-on-3 extra time: I predict they’re going to win their share of games in this format. Second, during the Oilers OT goal, while it was fun to watch McDavid and Draisaitl work their magic, Klefbom’s play was noteworthy. Scanning the ice beside him, he dropped into a defensive position – both to let the forwards do their thing and just in case the Oilers didn’t score. Smart play, I noted to myself.
Watching that play, but also some of his other struggles this season made me wonder where this young defenseman, Klefbom, might eventually rank historically with the Oilers’ all-time defensemen. Is he a true No. 1 blueliner in the NHL? Is he Edmonton’s best defenseman? Does he even rank with some of the names who have filtered through this organization? Here are some statistics and thoughts.
A Brief History of Oilers Defense
Clearly, the Edmonton Oilers have never had – and probably never will have – another defenseman like Paul Coffey. In his total time with the Oilers, Coffey scored 669 points (209 goals, 460 assists), and he went on to score more goals with other teams. He averaged 1.258 points per game in the 532 games he played with the Oilers. The next highest scorer is Kevin Lowe with 383 points (74 goals, 309 assists) in almost twice the number of Oilers’ games (1037 games) for an average of .369 points per game.
Of note, the next highest points per game average for an Oilers’ defenseman was Risto Siltanen with .733 in 206 Oilers’ games. [Reijo Ruotsalainen averaged .808 points per game, but only played 26 total games for the Oilers in 1986-87 and then to end his NHL career in 1989-90.] All Oilers’ fans recall the great Chris Pronger, who played only one great, yet unfulfilled year, in Edmonton –with 56 points (12 goals, and 44 assists). In addition, it would be hard not to add Al Hamilton to the mix of Oilers’ great D-men, being so important to the Oilers in their AHL days and having him be the first Edmonton Oiler to have his number retired.
All in all, the Oilers have had some pretty fantastic defensemen.
Where Does Klefbom Rank?
But what about Klefbom? Where is he? And, where might he end up?
Only 25 years old in July, Klefbom has already played six seasons with the Oilers. This year, many fans have suggested he’s struggled and while he has no goals, he does have eight assists so far, an average of .44 points per game in 18 games. In his 273 Oilers’ games, he has 102 points (24 goals, 78 assists). His points per game average is .373, which ranks him 35th on the Oilers All-time List (Kevin Lowe is ranked #37) – behind such scoring D-men who played more than 100 games with the Oilers, like Lubomir Višnovský, Steve Smith, Igor Kravchuk, Charlie Huddy, Sheldon Souray, Roman Hamrlík, Ryan Whitney, and Boris Mironov – who all averaged over .50 points per game.
But, most of these players played at a different time, when scoring was higher than today. Specifically, in 1985-86 the Edmonton Oilers were the highest scoring team. In 80 games, they scored 426 goals. Last year, in 82 games, the Tampa Bay Lightning was the NHL’s highest scoring team, with 290 goals. If you are doing the math, that is 136 more goals for the Oilers in two fewer games – almost two goals a game more over a season.
By the way, the Colorado Avalanche are on pace for 296 goals to give you an idea of where scoring is that this season.
Obviously, the NHL game has morphed to where it is today, and it would be hard to replicate the Wayne Gretzky era for today’s’ Oilers. During 1985 alone, the Edmonton Oilers were part of two of the top three highest goal scoring NHL games of all time. On December 11, 1985, the Edmonton Oilers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 12-9, and on November 8, 1985, the Edmonton Oilers hammered the Vancouver Canucks 13-0. Knowing that, any comparisons have to be taken in that context.
Related: Alex Chiasson: Everyman’s Player
What’s Ahead for Klefbom?
All this begs the question: Where might Klefbom be headed on the Edmonton Oilers’ all-time list of D-men? Say Klefbom stays with the Oilers and plays 10 more years – he will only be 35 years old (and good D-men can play into their 40’s – eg. Zdeno Chara). His total games will approach 800 (798), and that is if he only averages the 50 games per year he played until this year. But, he played all 82 games for the Oilers in 2016-17 and played 66 games last year. So, his game totals should be higher.
He might never play as many games with the Oilers as Kevin Lowe did (he would have to average 75 games per year for the next 10 years to do so), but he would likely become the second leading Oilers’ D-man scorer if he averages 40 points per year, which is likely if he plays on the pace he has been this year. Darnell Nurse might be an interesting comparison player to watch. Only 23 years old, Nurse is showing he is a keeper on the Oilers’ blueline. But, even when playing all 82 games in 2017-18, Nurse scored only 26 points. So he doesn’t seem to be the scorer Klefbom is, and Klefbom seems to be a fixture on the Oilers’ OT 3-on-3 lineup.
Where these young Oilers’ D-men end up, one can only speculate. And, who knows with the NHL salary cap impacting future Oilers’ choices – especially with high-income players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But, for long-time Edmonton Oilers’ fans, the future will be fun to watch.