OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- “I’m ready to play.”
Edmonton Oilers prospect Oscar Klefbom will make his return to the ice on Friday for the Oklahoma City Barons, his first game action since December 28. The 6-foot-3 defenceman is hoping to put his recent injury behind him and continue with his development, which took a major upswing right before he got hurt.
“I think that, before he got injured, he was playing his best hockey,” said Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson.
The Oilers are hoping Klefbom is the real deal. They invested the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and, in his first season of professional hockey in North America, there have been signs that he is coming around. However, the adversity he faced in not only missing time this season, but missing most of last season due to shoulder surgery was a bump in his road to progress.
“From the start of the season to where he’s at right now, there’s definitely progress,” said Nelson. “In fairness to Oscar, he sat out all last season. Any time that you lose a season, it’s going to take you time to get back in the game. Plus, with him coming over to North America, it’s a different style here. He’s got to learn to adapt to it. He has been adapting.
“There’s simple things that we can correct. Battling behind the net, watching out that guys don’t get behind him, reading rush coverage… All those things, it takes time and experience to go through it. Through coaching and video, we’re making it better but it’s been a progression that we want to have go quicker. But, we’ve got to be patient and this guy has tremendous upside. We’ve just got to make sure we handle him the right way and get him ready to play up top.”
“I hadn’t played a game since October of last year,” Klefbom said. “(It’s hard) especially when you come over and play on a smaller ice surface and another type of play. It’s obviously pretty hard. It feels like I’m getting into it more and more and it feels pretty good right now.”
Klefbom has played in 27 games for the Oilers AHL affiliate this season and has three points (0-3-3). He feels like he sees his development coming around.
“We have really good coaches, I think. The staff is awesome and they give me space and time to develop in my time and I’ve had some individual training with Rocky Thompson as well. It feels like everything is falling in the right place. It feels good.”
Nelson likes what he’s seen from Klefbom’s recent play, when healthy. The 20-year-old blueliner is doing the simple things that a big body like him needs to do to be successful.
“When you watch him play, he’s a big, strong guy,” said the bench boss. “He can skate very well, he has decent puck skills and just his strength in the corners is impressive. He’ll go into a battle in the corner, he’ll win a loose puck battle and break out the puck. He’s strong in those areas. I think the biggest thing what he needs to work on is just his reading situations and that comes with experience.”
|Photos by Steven Christy. |
As a former first round pick, Klefbom is expected to contribute to the Oilers at some point in the near future. He earned his first call up earlier this season, a quick trip to join the team on the road in Calgary, in which he didn’t play a game. The question now is, when will he play a game and when will he capture full-time NHL duty?
“I don’t want to go through a times span of how quick he can be up there,” said Nelson. “But, with the situation right now, I think he’d benefit from playing the rest of the year here, maybe get an opportunity to play a few games this year. We have to be careful with this because we don’t want a player to go up there and fail. We want them to succeed. We have to give him the best opportunity to succeed and right now, I think it’s a good situation for him where he’s going to come back off his injury, play this weekend, get back and play just more consistent hockey. The whole thing about development and what I see from players that are trying to make the next step, is being consistent with what they do. You’ve got to bring it every night in the National Hockey League. Before they’re able to do that, they need to bring it here every night.”
Klefbom has seen multiple young players, and OKC teammates, get their opportunity to play in the NHL this season. He is patiently awaiting his.
“I’m just waiting for my chance,” he said. “It’s fun to see other guys doing well up there, but I’m looking forward to seeing myself with the Edmonton Oilers.”
When he does get the opportunity to join the team that drafted him, Klefbom says it will be worth the wait.
“It’s going to be unreal. Hopefully, I get the chance this season. I will work hard and I will do my best and just focus on the next day and try to be a little better every day. It’s going to be an amazing feeling if I get a chance.”
Klefbom hopes to take up where he left off before his recent injury when the Barons host the Rochester Americans on Friday night at the Cox Convention Center.