When the news came that Oscar Klefbom was ruled out for the 2020-21 NHL season due to a shoulder injury, it was a big blow for the Edmonton Oilers. Klefbom has meant a lot to the Oilers’ defense in recent years, both when it comes to ice time and playing on the power play. Now Edmonton needs other defensemen to take a step forward in his absence.
Klefbom Has Been a Great Asset for the Oilers’ Defense
People in the hockey world often mention players like Victor Hedman, Roman Josi, John Carlson, and Alex Pietrangelo when talking about the best defensemen in the world. Some might suggest young players like Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes. But no one, except possibly some die-hard Edmonton Oilers fan, would bring up Klefbom’s name in that discussion. But let’s be honest, the 27-year-old Oilers’ defenseman will probably never be a player who will have a chance of winning the Norris Trophy.
Klefbom is rarely a player who hits the headlines or someone that is the focus of post-game shows. With the two top scorers in the NHL on the same team, it might not be so strange. It’s only natural that the focus is on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But there is no doubt that Klefbom has been important to the Oilers. The Swedish defenseman averaged 25:25 of ice time per game last season, ranked fifth for a defenseman in 2019-20, and tied with Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks.
With 34 points (five goals and 29 assists) during the 2019-20 season, Klefbom was 31st among defensemen in the NHL. Even though he is not among the top defensemen in scoring, he put up quite a few points.
But Klefbom is also important to the team in other ways with his style of play. That he was the player who blocked the most shots in the entire NHL in 2019-20 says a lot. He gives everything for his team, even though it means he ends up with a lot of bruises. It is impossible to ignore the crucial role he played for the Oilers last season. Unfortunately, his career has been full of injuries, and this is not the first time that he has been out for a longer period due to an injury.
Klefbom Played Important Role in the Best Power Play in the NHL
Klefbom has been the Oilers’ number one defenseman but without getting the headlines that other prominent defenders in the NHL get.
”He does every little part of the game right, and when you put it like that it means he is an extremely smart D-man,” countryman and teammate Adam Larsson told Sportsnet when asked about Klefbom at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.
Larsson said that even if Klefbom is not “flashy,” he could be compared to a player like Pietrangelo. And Larsson is not the only one on the Oilers who has positive things to say about Klefbom.
“He means so much to this team, each and every night he comes out and he makes an impact on this game,” Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse said recently.
His teammates see what great value Klefbom brings to the team, and it will be a big blow for the Oilers to be without their number one defenseman this season.
One of the main reasons why the Oilers improved in 2019-20 was thanks to the team’s excellent power play — they had the best power play in the NHL during the regular season. And it was not just the best power play of the season. No team has had as good a power play percentage in the regular season since the New York Islanders in 1978-79. The Oilers’ success on the power play had a lot to do with having the NHL’s two best scorers in McDavid and Drasaitl.
Draisaitl led the league with 44 power play points, and McDavid was second with 43 points. But Klefbom also played an important role as a quarterback. His great shot and his ability to get the puck to the right people should not be underestimated.
But Klefbom has not only been an important asset for the Oilers when it comes to his offensive game. His ability to defend well has also been crucial to the team. He played a significant role in the Oilers’ penalty kill, which was second-best in the NHL last season. The question is how the Oilers will manage without his contribution to both their offense and defense.
Who Will Step Up for the Oilers in Klefbom’s Absence?
Without Klefbom on the blue line, other players must step up in his absence. And however unfortunate the injury is for the team, the Oilers’ defense seems better prepared than in a long time to lose its number one defenseman. With the addition of Tyson Barrie on a one-year deal, the Oilers have someone who can take Klefbom’s place on the power play right away.
When it comes to scoring, Barrie should even be considered an upgrade over Klefbom. Even though Barrie struggled in 2019-20, he still scored 39 points for the Maple Leafs. Hopefully, he can come up with the same number of points as the two previous seasons when he scored 59 and 57.
At even strength and on the penalty kill, the expectation is Darnell Nurse will take the leading role this season. Nurse, who is starting his sixth full NHL season, was second behind Klefbom in average ice time on the Oilers, with 23:27 last season and scored 33 points (five goals and 28 assists). So it’s a responsibility that Nurse is prepared to take on.
“You lose a guy as big as Klef, every guy has to pick up a little extra. For me, playing the left side, a lot of that responsibility is going to fall on my shoulders. I look forward to the challenge,” Nurse said to Sportsnet in December.
Another player who needs to take on more responsibility this season is 23-year-old Ethan Bear. And he seems ready for the challenge. The young defenseman exceeded most expectations and had a very good season in 2019-20, scoring 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in 71 games while averaging 21:58 of ice time per game.
Those players, together with defensemen like Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, and new edition Slater Koekkoek, the Oilers defense looks quite promising.
If these players can take a step forward this season, the Oilers can hopefully improve their defense, even without Klefbom on the team.