|Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers
has all of the tools the Edmonton Oilers are looking for in a defenceman. He’s big, he’s strong and he can play a solid defensive game. What Klefbom lacks is experience and until recently, confidence.
Klefbom is finding both just nine games into his NHL career.
On Friday night, against Anaheim and under the Rexall Place lights, the former 19th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft scored his first National Hockey League goal. David Perron
waited with the puck along the boards and Klefbom jumped in the play. The 20-year-old rookie stepped over the blue line and received Perron’s pass through his stick and on his skate. The puck hit his skate, bounced to his stick and he fired a wrist shot past the Ducks netminder, through a screen by Sam Gagner
It was a play that the 6-foot-3, 213 pound defenceman probably didn’t expect for his first NHL goal.
“Not really,” He said. “Just a wrister from the blue line maybe, I’d imagine with a lot of screening. This was different but I’d take this every day of the week.”
After the game, Klefbom claimed he couldn’t remember much of the moment or the goal, it was ‘just like a blackout’ for him. He was more lucid and aware the morning after.
“I watched it on the highlights a lot of times last night. Of course, you see how it looks.It was incredible, especially when we play a game against Anaheim too. It was tough. They’re a big, strong team and especially we played back home here in Rexall and it’s a good feeling.”
|Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers |
Adding to the excitement was the fact that it was Klefbom’s father’s birthday and watching his son bank his first-career goal had to have been special.
His father must be very proud. After having just eight games under his belt, the Oilers organization decided to push the pace a bit with their young and promising prospect. Head Coach Dallas Eakins decided to flip Klefbom over to his strong side on the left and pair him with a defenceman who likes to jump up in the play offensively and do so often.
It also provided Klefbom with the opportunity to prove he can play a stay-at-home defensive game and matchup against the opponent’s top offensive playmakers.
“Justin is a very good skater and very good guy on the ice so he helped me out a lot,” Klefbom said. “Before the game, I was told to maybe take a little more defensive work just to cover him up if he follows up on the rush. But I think it turned out to play pretty good.”
Klefbom knows he can be that solid defenceman but he also wants to show he can bring some offence when the situation allows it.
“We’ll see. I want to be a two-way defender. But obviously, I want to make really good defensive work first. It depends. If I play with Justin, I will take a little more defensive work to cover him up. Like I said, I want to be a guy who can follow up rushes and make a good first pass.”
Klefbom drew some minutes against Anaheim’s big two; Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both players are in the top 10 in the NHL with points, Getzlaf is second with 80 and Perry is eighth with 72.
|Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers |
“I didn’t feel like he was intimidated by them at all and that’s the first part of it because those guys are big, intimidating guys just because they’re big and they’ve got massive reach, they both can skate and they have skill,” Eakins said. “It’s the full package and two of them on one line, you don’t see that a lot. I thought Oscar did well against them. I think he was learning some lessons about size and speed and how to handle that, angles, his stick’s got to be extremely important against those guys but I thought he did fine against them.”
It was a tough task for Klefbom and it comes just days after the rookie said that in his first few games he was ‘scared’ and ‘nervous’ as a young player to matchup against some of the NHL’s elite. Nine games in now, and his opponents’ reputation no longer faze him.
“No, I’m not,” Klefbom said of being nervous. “Especially when it’s the first couple of games in the National Hockey League, it’s a lot of emotions and of course you’re a bit nervous the first couple of games and you want to make the play as good as you can and take one step at a time. Right now, I (have) played nine games. It feels like I’m more confident on the ice and can do something good with the puck as well.”
Playing against Getzlaf and Perry was a challenge walking in and lessons learned walking out.
“They’re such high-skilled players and they have the toughness too,” Klefbom said. “They’re so hard to play against but you just have to believe in yourself and just play your game. Don’t try to do anything else because they are really good players. You just have to have confidence to play those guys.”
The Oilers have been blessed with growth and development in two of their young defensive prospects. Both Klefbom and Martin Marincin are seeing gains in their first NHL seasons. Marincin has more experience than Klefbom, having played in 36 games now. He is also just one of only two Oilers players, with more than 10 games played, to have a plus-minus in the green. Marincin is +3 on the season and has shown he can hang in the NHL. However, both defencemen are still green.
“Marty has been here the longest,” Eakins said. “We’re still learning about Oscar but both guys have played well and we’re trying to see if they’re real, 82 game, every night NHL defencemen. But the early signs are, both these guys are going to be players and both need different things. Oscar needs more experience and just through playing, he’s plenty strong enough already. Marty can move the puck but he needs a ton of strength still.”
The jury is still out on these young players like Klefbom, but it’s an encouraging sign to see their growth and for a guy like Klefbom, boosted confidence can go a long way when paired with more experience.
He’s still a rookie after all.
“It’s still hard to believe,” Klefbom said. “Especially, when you’re on the ice against Getzlaf and Perry and stuff. It’s almost hard to believe still so it’s a dream come true, especially to score a goal, my first NHL goal against those guys is pretty amazing.”