EDMONTON, AB - Oilers Associate Coach Jim Playfair may have only played 21 career games as a defenceman in the National Hockey League but the blueline boss is an expert in the field.
The Oilers 20th-overall selection in the 1982 NHL Draft didn't have the longest playing career but gained his defensive acumen by patrolling bluelines from 1981-92, then instructing how to patrol them since 1993.
With Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett away for the day, and given Playfair's focus on the defensive side of the game, it came as no surprise that when the associate coach stood before the media following practice on Friday, questions about the club's rearguards took precedence.
Playfair - who improved the Oilers goals-against per game from 3.30 in the 2018-19 season to 3.04 in '19-20 and the penalty kill from 74.8 percent to 84.5 - began with an update on Oscar Klefbom. The blueliner has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, last appearing in game action on Feb. 16 when the Oilers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime.
The Swedish defender was on the recent three-game Central Division trip and participated in Friday's optional skate as he continues eyeing a return to the team bench.
Video: RAW | Playfair 03.06.20
"We're hoping for a long playoff run and if this little time away sets us up to have Klef for a deep run into June, it's a good investment for everyone to make," Playfair said.
"I think that's, probably, one of the ways he looked at it."
Klefbom's status for Saturday's match against the Columbus Blue Jackets remains up in the air until the morning but should he be unable to dress, the defence coach has trust in the healthy personnel that remain. Playfair pointed to the squad's breakout scheme as one reason for the growth of the back end.
"We've encouraged our defencemen to try to find pucks through the middle of the ice and find our forwards in the middle of the ice as opposed to always going around the boards and having our forwards have to pull pucks off the wall to exit our zone," Playfair detailed.
"Our group has allowed our defencemen to collectively grow together. I like the fact that we're trying to get pucks up to our forwards through the middle of the ice a lot more."
Video: INJURY UPDATE | Klefbom 03.06.20
The Oilers remain in the thick of a tight playoff race, currently placing second in the Pacific Division with 80 points - two back of the Vegas Golden Knights, who visit Edmonton on Monday.
The postseason is a different beast than the regular schedule and Playfair believes the Orange & Blue will need collective efforts from the group to clinch their ticket and make a run. Edmonton's depth on the blueline offers a variety of complexions, which could be beneficial going forward.
"I think this: it's going to take eight or nine to get where we want to go," Playfair said.
"I think we have the luxury of some guys that shoot left that can play on the right side. We got Greeny (Mike Green) coming back. If we're chasing a game, we can put Greeny up with Klef. If we're defending a game, we can put Lars (Adam Larsson) up there. We got veteran experience with Rusty (Kris Russell) and with Benny (Matt Benning). And we got young kids coming along, trying to figure out how to play this time of year.
"It's a really good combination when you break it all down and look at it. We can move players around. I think having Klef coming in will help stabilize and settle everybody back into positions I think we all feel they're more comfortable in and probably better suited to play."