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FEATURE: Klefbom evolving into top-end weapon

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

EDMONTON, AB - How good can Oscar Klefbom be this season for the Edmonton Oilers?

Answer: pretty darn good.

Video: PRACTICE | Thursday at Rogers Place

With the exception of time missed due to injury, Klefbom has enjoyed a steady ascent in terms of development on the back end. The defenceman, taken 19th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, took a big step forward last season, posting career-best offensive numbers to go along with his solid and reliable defensive play.

Klefbom scored 12 goals and added 26 assists in 82 games - his first full healthy season in the league - and he had two goals and three assists in 12 post-season contests.

His natural progression and growth has allowed Klefbom to evolve from more of a defensive player to one who packs a punch offensively and can play on the team's top power-play unit.

"Obviously, when you start playing in this league you want to keep it simple and play a solid defensive game," said Klefbom. "But I've been here a couple years and, obviously, had that tough injury. I've got a lot of confidence right now, especially with last season getting some points, getting some goals. I just have a lot of confidence right now.

"I told myself last year to shoot the puck a lot and it was effective, right? Obviously, when you play with some really good guys on the ice it helps. I just want to continue and focus on my game here, shoot the puck and play my game and even develop even more in my offensive game."

Klefbom spoke with former NHL defenceman and Oilers Assistant Coach Jim Johnson a few days ago about goals for 2017-18. The two agreed that more shots on net was a logical and tangible thing to look to.

"We were just talking about having a mindset and a goal just to shoot as much as I can," said Klefbom. "We were talking about I don't know how many shots, 250 shots on goal or something, just to have something to strive for and it was a pretty good result last year so we want to aim for that, if not even better."

250 shots on goal? That's a lofty number. That would be an increase of 49 from Klefbom's total last year. It would also have ranked second in the League amongst blueliners last year, behind only Brent Burns - who had a freakish 320.

"That's what my goal is for sure," Klefbom laughed. "I mean, it's tough. You're not going to get nine shot attempts on goal every night. Burns is a hell of a player and he shoots the puck very much and he gets the points too. It's in front of the net where we score all our goals, basically. You just try to get it there, it doesn't have to be hard, it doesn't have to be very accurate sometimes, just to get it close to the net so we can find some secondary rebounds."

Klefbom did get off to a great start Wednesday night. The 24-year-old had nine shots go through in the team's 3-0 season-opening win over the Calgary Flames, two blocked.

"You guys saw what he did with that slap shot," said Oilers winger Patrick Maroon, marvelling at one shot in particular that knocked off goaltender Mike Smith's mask.

"He's obviously got the potential to be that 12-15 goal scorer in this league. He's obviously ready to take that next step, I think a lot of people are ready to take the next step. We've got some guys in here who can do it. They can be big impact players on this team, not only on the back end but on the offensive side of things too. Klefbom had like 15 or 10 shots attempted last night. That's like Brent Burns style. He's our catalyst back there. He's going to find ways to create offence for us and hopefully he can continue that."

"I think every year he just keeps getting better, not only offensively but defensively," said Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot. "I think him paired with (Adam) Larsson, they're even a good shutdown pair. Klef does a lot on the power play and in the offensive zone, but I think his defensive zone (play) gets overlooked sometimes. Him and Larss had some nice squeezes on odd-man rushes (against Calgary). They didn't allow anything to the net and didn't give up any big chances. He did a good job against their top lines the other night and he's really come into his own this year."

Is Klefbom teetering on the edge of another huge leap forward? It's not so farfetched to think he's in for another career season - which would put him in conversation with some of the best in the League.

"I think there's a real good chance that can happen," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "I like his approach. From our time here in Edmonton, it's increased immensely: his approach to the game, his maturity, his goal setting, the homework that he does, the stuff that he asks for from the coaching staff like, 'hey, I need to look at this.' That didn't necessarily happen a couple years ago. He's taken that step."

For Klefbom, time has been his biggest asset. He's been around pro hockey for many years, starting in Sweden before logging short stints in the American Hockey League and now establishing himself in the NHL. Injuries set him back, but time has allowed him the opportunity to grow. The Oilers are reaping the benefits.

"It was very good for me to have some time and watch and learn," said Klefbom. "Obviously, with that injury it was a bit of a setback but as of today I feel real good on the ice and I have a lot of confidence."

As he continues to show the League he's arrived, look for the young defender to keep rocketing Klef-bombs on net at the expense of opposing goaltenders. It may happen a lot this season.

"The shot totals, why not?" asked McLellan. "It's on his tape, it's off his tape. Why not have 250 shots?"

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