The strides Oscar Klefbom has made on the ice in just his second professional season here in North America have been documented throughout the last year. The 21-year-old defenceman increased the number of NHL games played from 17 in his rookie year to 60 this season, recording 20 points (2-18-20).
In the second half of the season, Klefbom was paired often with Justin Schultz as the top duo on the Oilers blueline. Klefbom, the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, has shown glimpses of what he could become for the organization and that has his general manager excited.
“When you talk about Oscar, I don’t think there is one facet of the game where you can put him in and hurt his development,” said Oilers GM Craig MacTavish. “There are guys that I see that are just going to be really good players and potentially star players. I see that in him. I don’t think there is one area, when you have meetings with players at the end of the year, there are normally four or five things you can point out that they’ve got to do better. You’ve got to improve on your fitness. But I’m at a bit of a loss for him, with the exception of experience.”
Klefbom figures to get more and more of that much-needed experience as he continues his career. But the experienced gained this season has the organization salivating at the future of their blueline.
“I think, offensively, he’s grown the last 20 or 25 games,” said MacTavish. “I don’t know what everybody in here feels, but I feel a whole lot of comfort when he is going back and defending and going to break the puck out. When I look at Oscar, all I think is we need a couple more of him. I think we’ve got one in the system and that will move the dial too as well.”
The other defenceman that MacTavish alluded to was most likely Darnell Nurse. The Oilers top defensive prospect, taken seventh overall in 2013, is currently in the second round of the OHL playoffs, captaining the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
MacTavish is comfortable with Klefbom and Schultz as an important pair heading into next season, but did explain the need to add to the roster on defence. The question is whether or not the price will be right and what will come available, in terms of top defencemen.
“I think we can be a competitive team, for sure, but we’ve got to make additions there,” the general manager said. “For me, it gets to how much we’re going to pay in terms of developing assets for proven assets that are declining assets, potentially declining assets. The minute that developing asset intersects with that declining asset, that’s when you regret it. That’s really the gist and the crux of our decision making now going through to next year, because make no mistake, we have the assets that we can go out and acquire more proven players. But these players are going to be, in all likelihood, declining players and is that going to be the best strategy for our hockey club?”
MacTavish thinks that, should one of those players become available, the Oilers have the assets to make something happen.
“Do I envision a scenario where a proven top one or top two defenceman becomes available? Potentially. I think there are going to be some very unhappy teams here in the next couple of weeks. There are going to be some teams that are up against a very tight salary cap and that’s going to create an environment where they could potentially be looking to off-load some high-end assets and we’d be in a position, because of some of the developing assets we have, that we’d be able to acquire them, and the money that we have.”