Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Edmonton Oilers had more than a few obstacles to overcome, most notably the extended absence of defenceman Andrej Sekera due to off-season knee surgery. However, what has been a rather unpleasant surprise is the addition of fellow blueliner Oscar Klefbom to said list with what can only be described as an awful start to his campaign.
After taking a substantial step forward in his development in 2016-17, it seemed only natural for the talented Swede to continue his progression towards becoming a true No. 1 defenceman. Unfortunately, things do not always go in a straight line and that has been the case for Klefbom through Edmonton’s first 13 games. With that said, the tide does seem to be turning when it comes to the 24-year old rearguard.
Klefbom Hasn’t Been Good But…
Despite the club’s continued struggles with consistency, Klefbom has managed to string together three consecutive solid performances following what was easily his low-point of the season against the Washington Capitals to close out the month of October. Since then we have started to see signs of the player who was nip and tuck with Sekera as the Oilers best defenceman a season ago.
"He didn't have a particularly sharp game" — Todd McLellan with an Understatement Of The Year candidate re: Oscar "Dash Four" Klefbom
— Bruce McCurdy (@BruceMcCurdy) October 29, 2017
Be it a wake-up call that comes following what truly was a dreadful showing for both he and regular partner Adam Larsson against the Capitals or the fact the player simply decided to throw his early season struggles aside and start anew. No matter how good a player is, when things are going poorly, confidence is going to be an issue and that was certainly part of the equation when it came to No. 77.
Another thing to keep in mind is how much of an impact the loss of Sekera has had on the entire backend. Though the two did not play with one another at even strength, the importance of having both Klefbom and the gifted Slovak defender to anchor Edmonton’s top two pairings cannot be overstated. With the veteran rearguard out of the lineup, there is no longer a spot for the other to catch a breath.
Sekera Absence Impacts Entire Backend
We saw something similar happen during Sekera’s initial season in the Alberta capital after Klefbom was lost to injury after the 30-game mark and the team never recovered. After getting off to a slow start during his first month and a bit in Oilers silks, Sekera started to show signs of improvement in his new digs, However, after Klefbom was hurt, the workload started to take its toll and his play slipped down the stretch.
Let’s not forget, that is the effect it had on a 10-year vet and who has played nearly 650 regular season games. If that is how it works with a player that has Sekera’s resume, it should have surprised no one to see a kid with just over 200 games under his belt have a tough time adjusting to a similar situation. In my mind, not plugging that hole nor addressing other concerns is on Peter Chiarelli but that is a discussion for another day.
Even with his early-season slump, Klefbom sits seventh among defencemen in shots on goal with 46 and is averaging just over 3.5 a game. To put that in perspective, his total of 2.45 shots from a season ago was already well above the 1.6 he posted in each of the previous two seasons and as of this moment, only Roman Josi and Brent Burns are firing more pucks on goal on nightly basis among NHL blueliners.
Klefbom Among League Leaders
It may not seem like much but when we take into account Edmonton’s struggles to score goals, the fact Klefbom has still found a way to increase his impact on the attack, despite his own struggles, can only be viewed as a positive for both the player and club. Though he has yet to be rewarded on the scoresheet, the 2011 first round pick will undoubtedly see his point totals climb if he continues on his current pace.
Things to remember when we hear “Klefbom is Struggling”
Just played his 201st NHL game
Is 24, Signed for 6 more years.
plays 24:12 a game
— SuperNova (@SuperNovs1) November 4, 2017
Yes, he still has a ways to go when it comes to his game in the defensive zone but again, if Klefbom’s last few outings are any indication of what we should expect moving forward, the situation is nowhere near as dire as it appeared at the end of October. In order for this group to have a hope of getting back into contention for a playoff spot, they are going to rely heavily on the Karlstad native and he needs to deliver.
Make no mistake until the Edmonton Oilers go out and address their shortcomings along the blue line and/or Andrej Sekera returns from injury and can perform at/or near his usual standards, this defence will continue to have its problems. Yet, when it comes to Oscar Klefbom it looks as though the ship has started to “right itself” and it could not have turned at a more opportune time for Todd McLellan and company.
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Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.