Following Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to Colorado, Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins made it clear he was not happy with the execution of his team. Eakins said the execution throughout the lineup was ‘terrible’ with the exception of one player, Oscar Klefbom
, whom he singled out in his post-game press conference.
“Usually it just happens and you just have three or four guys having troubles but it snowballed quickly where the only guy I can remember making good plays all night, right off the top of my head, was Oscar,” Eakins said after the game. “I thought Oscar was breaking the puck out great (and) making good plays but the rest of us just couldn’t get two passes in a row.”
Klefbom agrees that he played an okay game despite the outcome.
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“It was an alright game for me,” Klefbom said. “Obviously it’s pretty tough when they get a couple goals against us but it was a pretty solid game. It feels like I have to be a very solid defenceman to make it in the NHL so right now I just try to enjoy the time on the ice.”
Klefbom, at just 20 years-old, is 15 games into his NHL career. However, the 19th overall pick in 2011 has already shown sustained flashes that he may have what it takes to not only make Edmonton’s roster out of camp next season but also become the solid NHL defenceman expected of him.
“I don’t know if surprise is the word,” Eakins said. “I think it’s such an unknown when a guy like that comes up. I heard his name a lot in training camp and he was coming off an injury and hadn’t played that much, which is usually a red flag to me quietly right away that he’s probably going to struggle in camp. So he went to the American League and I wasn’t sure what we were getting. He’s earned his time here and he continues to improve every game. Our last game, our execution wasn’t there but Oscar was one of the few guys that were going back for pucks and executing the passes that we need to be successful.”
Klefbom missed almost the entire 2012-13 season with an injury. This season, he has played 45 games in the American Hockey League. Like most young players making the jump to North American professional hockey, he needed an adjustment period.
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For him, it took until just around Christmas to get used to the smaller ice surface and North American style of game. Since then, Klefbom began making impressions on the Oklahoma City Barons coaching staff and then earned his first taste of NHL action, making his debut on March 11.
When he was first recalled, Eakins and the Oilers left the door open that Klefbom may not play the rest of the season in the NHL and could be sent back to OKC before the schedule was over. However, Klefbom has made it difficult on the Oilers to pull the trigger and has made a spot for himself on the team’s blue line.
“It’s been a couple of good of games I think,” Klefbom said. “I’m getting into it more and more, I feel more confidence on the ice. Earlier in my NHL debut, I just wanted to play an easy game and don’t make any mistakes but right now it feels like I have more confidence and can do something good with the puck.”
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound rookie has settled in. Although he’s still young and has to continue to develop, the signs have been encouraging in this last handful of games.
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Even when Klefbom was playing in the AHL, it seemed like he may have a skill set better suited for the National Hockey League. Coming from Sweden, being accustomed to a bigger ice surface and having more time to make plays, Klefbom seems to assimilate better in the NHL.
“The play over there is obviously a bigger ice (surface), you have more time,” he said. “Here, it’s pretty similar somehow. The players are so smart and they create some time for me as well.”
“I think it’s a matter of the timing on the ice too. The players here are so smart so they know where they have to be to make the play so I don’t know. I just try to enjoy the time on the ice so it’s pretty good.”
In contrast, the AHL has good players but they’re mostly younger, less-experienced and underdeveloped and the puck may not be where it’s supposed to be at the exact right time.
“Down there, it’s just like dump and chase and play a straight game,” Klefbom said. “Here, you can do something good with the puck as well and it helps me a lot.”
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In the NHL, the players are such high hockey IQs and are so talented that they are in the right places at the right times and it makes it easier to read and make plays. Think of it as a board game, like chess, and all of the pieces are in the right places. You just have to make the right move.
“Yeah actually,” Klefbom said. “It sounds pretty weird but I think it’s way easier to play in the NHL actually. Like you said, my game suits the NHL better I think than in the American Hockey League somehow. The players are so smart here and they’re at the right place so I just have to make the play.”
Eakins, a former AHL coach, has seen that type of transition before where a player is maybe a little better suited to play in the higher league with better players.
“Well, I’ve seen it happen times before where maybe you have a player in the (AHL) where maybe their point totals, they’re not ripping it up in that league and sometimes it’s certainly a case where you look at it and if you can come to the realization that maybe this guy needs better players to play with,” Eakins said. “I’ve seen it before, I’m not sure if that is the case with Oscar but he’s certainly played very well here.”
This season has been an integral piece to Klefbom’s development. The time he spent in the AHL was necessary to get him up to speed with the professional game on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. This season has also given him an opportunity to experience the NHL and earn his playing time. It hasn’t been handed to him.
“There’s huge values both ways,” Eakins said. “For me, to go play in that American League and to start learning the pro game, we’ve got excellent coaches there, that’s the first part of it. Then to come up and basically, we wanted to see where he was at and early, I thought he was good, average. But now, these last few games, it looks like he’s starting to come and I wish we had another 10 games left in the season because I’d like to see where it would go.
“But when these guys get called up anytime, I don’t care if it was one game or 40 games, the time is valuable all the way around. Especially, if the guys is having some sort of success. If we would have seen a fall off with him, we would have got him back right away because you want to get him up, (give him) a good taste in his mouth and send him back but he continues to get better every night.”