The start of the 2015-16 season has been an interesting one for Edmonton Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom. After suffering an injury during training camp, the talented rearguard has struggled to find his game over the opening two and half weeks of the year. Unfortunately, the Oilers blueline is structured in such a way that it can ill-afford to have the 22-year old at anything but his very best.
“We had something really good going on. This is too bad today.” – Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom on a 7-4 loss to end the win streak
— Rob Tychkowski (@Sun_Tychkowski) October 24, 2015
While general manager Peter Chiarelli went out and upgraded the backend he inherited after taking over from Craig MacTavish in late April, it is one that still has a number of holes on it. Did bringing in the likes of Eric Gryba, Andrej Sekera, and Griffin Reinhart improve the Oilers defence? No question. When you can remove the likes of an Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin from being dressed on a nightly basis, your team is going to be better.
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At this stage of their respective careers, neither one should be used in a top-six role on an NHL roster. With that said, the only defenceman Chiarelli added that could be considered a first or second pairing guy was Sekera and in the minds of many, mine included, he is not really an upgrade on the recently departed Jeff Petry. Ironically enough, the former 2006 second-round pick was used in a similar role to the one Klefbom is currently being asked to hold down, during his final two years in Oilers silks.
Jeff Petry 2.0
It was never an ideal fit for Petry and now that the 27-year old is being used further down the depth chart with the Montreal Canadiens, those who felt he was not a very good defenceman, have suddenly changed their tune. Funny how playing behind P.K. Subban and Anderi Markov and in front of Carey Price can change how a player is perceived by both the media and fans. For years, Petry was miscast as a first pairing blueliner on a bad team and not surprisingly, the results were all over the map.
After all is it not up to an organization to put players in a situation to succeed. Edmonton never did that with Petry and while the hope was the “new regime” would not go down a similar path, Todd McLellan has essentially been forced into doing exactly what his predecessors had done. It may still be early, but Sekera and Mark Fayne have looked nothing like a top pairing and because of it, the former San Jose Sharks bench boss has been force feeding minutes to the duo of Klefbom and Schultz.
An Ugly Performance
While the young pairing has had its share of ups and downs during their first seven games, they were downright awful during Friday’s 7-4 loss to the Washington Capitals. Considering the Oilers were coming off a rather modest three-game win streak, one could simply point to the ugly effort against as nothing more than a blip on the radar screen but in the two games which Edmonton faced teams with a skilled lineup, they were severely outclassed. And not surprisingly, that duo struggled to hold their own against top flight competition.
However what is most alarming, is Schultz has actually started to show signs of improvement whereas Klefbom has taken a step back from where he was last season. Could it be because of the aforementioned injury during the pre-season? Possibly but let’s not forget at the start of every season, teams are going out there with something to prove. That puts more pressure on players to perform and some do well with it…while others do not.
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In Oscar Klefbom’s case, many seem to forget he is a 22-year old kid who had a grand total of 77 games under his belt heading into this season. And yet there he is, playing major minutes on a defensively challenged squad and the mistakes are starting to pile up. In a perfect world, using him and Justin Schultz on a second pairing would be ideal but as things currently stand, Edmonton already has one of those.
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.