This coming June will mark four years since Swedish defenceman Oscar Klefbom heard his name called at the 2011 NHL Draft in St. Paul Minnesota.
The Edmonton Oilers had already chosen Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall and later stepped to the podium to announce a second first-round choice with a pick obtained from Los Angeles in the Dustin Penner trade. Klefbom’s name was called in the 19th spot and he slipped the Oilers jersey over his head for the first time as an official prospect of the organization.
Since that fateful day in Minnesota, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound blueliner has taken the path less traveled by most highly-touted recent first-rounders in the Oilers organization – a path that has proven successful thus far in the development of the young defenceman.
|Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images |
Klefbom first broke into the ranks of the Swedish Elite League as a 17 year old with the Farjestad organization during the 2010-11 season. That year also saw Klefbom captain Sweden’s silver-medal team at the 2011 IIHF U-18 World Championship.
He scored one goal and tacked on three assists for four points in six games and went on to be named one of Sweden’s top three players in the tournament. With it being the season just ahead of his draft year, North American scouts definitely started to take notice of the gifted two-way blueliner with the solid upside of leadership capabilities.
And the Oilers clearly liked what they saw as well. Having struggled with cementing a solid back end in previous years, the club viewed the young Swede as a potential future star.
After drafting Klefbom 19th overall, Oilers management commented on the new acquisition.
“He’s a big man and a great skater. He can play against speed, he can play against size, he has a great stick and he’s very competitive. Maybe even more important for us is that he brings an element of leadership. It’s been asked if he’s ready for the NHL and I don’t think we need to answer that just yet. If he’s ready in a year or if he’s ready sooner, we don’t feel we need to rush this young man.”
It was that decision to not rush the young blueliner that would play so crucial into his journey of successfully developing into a competitive top-four defenceman at the NHL level.
The 2011-12 season would see Klefbom continue to work his way into the lineup with Farjestad in Sweden. It was that year that Klefbom would once again get the opportunity to showcase his talents on the international stage, suiting up for Sweden at the 2012 World Junior Championship. Moreover, he would be on display right in front of his prospective NHL club as the Juniors hit the ice in the host cities of Edmonton and Calgary – and he didn’t fail to impress.
The big D-man would go +8 with a goal and an assist enroute to a gold medal
when the Swedes handed Russia a 1-0 decision in the championship game in Calgary. The kid was looking good and the Oilers must have thought so too, because in
|Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images |
June of 2012 they signed him to a three-year, entry-level deal. It was another huge step closer to what Kelfbom considered his main goal.
“It’s the biggest day of my life. It’s really a dream come true,” he said nervously at the time when asked about the emotions involved with inking his first NHL deal. “Edmonton is a great organization with a lot of proud history behind it. It feels really good.”
It looked like Klefbom was getting close to making his NHL debut, but in the interest of sticking to his slow and steady development plan, Klefbom was set to play another season back in Sweden before joining the Oilers organization in 2013-14.
Both Klefbom and the Oilers were understandably eager to see him in orange and blue, but ultimately opted to keep him at home for another campaign.
“I don’t want to come over and feel like I’m not ready,” Klefbom said of the decision. “I think Farjestad is a really good opportunity for me to be a really good player.”
Like any true success story, Klefbom’s didn’t come without a few bumps along the road. He ended up playing just 11 games during the 2012-13 campaign before a season-ending shoulder injury threw a wrench into his development plan. He would spend the latter half of the season rehabilitating his
shoulder in Edmonton, but he managed to find the upside to some poor circumstances.
“I try to see everything positively. I got the ability to come to Edmonton and meet all the coaching staff and all the trainers to get to know them. I think that made the transition easier when I finally got here,” Klefbom said of his rehab in Edmonton.
After a long road to recovery, Klefbom was looking like he was finally ready to make that leap to the North American game. But there would be a couple more hurdles to jump. He was sent to the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons to gauge what level he was at after his previous season was cut short.
“When we first got Oscar, he had not played the whole previous season,” said then Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson, now the Oilers interim bench boss. “There is always a bigger adjustment for European players coming over to North America.”
And despite being very confident in the young man’s ability, Nelson admitted there were some growing pains.
|Photo by Steven Christy/OKC Barons |
“His first three months in OKC were really up and down. He struggled some nights and some nights he prospered,” said Nelson. “But that’s what you see down there. You see players trying to develop their game and he really benefited from being down and definitely gained confidence.”
It seemed that some time in the minors was exactly the type of transition phase the big Swede needed. Klefbom’s hard work paid off with his NHL debut on March 11, 2014 after being recalled from OKC near the end of the season.
He went on to finish the season with the big club, making 17 appearances and even notching his first NHL goal on March 28, 2014 against the Anaheim Ducks. The goal was a microcosm of his NHL capabilities, as he showed some offensive prowess after gliding into the slot, corralling a quick pass from David Perron and snapping a precision shot past Jonas Hiller.
Despite a strong showing during his first crack at the big leagues, Klefbom would have to show a little bit more patience and maturity as he wasn’t given a roster spot with the Oilers at the beginning of the 2014-15 season.
As it would turn out, though, he was even closer than it seemed. Klefbom started the season with the OKC Barons and put up some impressive numbers right out of the gate, indicating his days just might be numbered on the farm.
Klefbom, who had eight points and a +10 rating in nine games with OKC, was recalled in November and his play since has proven he might just be ready to stay in the show for good – especially given what Nelson felt about what he was seeing.
“This year, he spent some more time in Oklahoma City and you saw him develop a little more confidence. Right now I think
|Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images |
we’re seeing a good, young defenceman that’s going to be a good defenceman for quite a while in the National Hockey League,” he said. “I like the way that he’s progressing. He wouldn’t have gotten to this point if he did not spend that time in the minors.”
The journey from his draft day to this season has been long and certainly full of challenges, but the young man is feeling as confident in himself as his coach is and said the history between the two has helped his cause.
“Todd knows what he can expect from me as a player so I don’t feel like I have any pressure on me with him,” Klefbom said. “I have a lot of confidence on the ice and it’s fun to play. I just try to enjoy every day up here and it feels good.”
The organization’s plan to not rush the young defenceman, dating back to his draft day almost four years ago, is proving to be the recipe for success. Both player and team have stayed the course and Klefbom has shown lately what the Oilers had hoped for all along.
He has solid breakout capabilities, he is very strong in the corners, he has the ability to play big minutes and his offensive game has shown progression. This, all coming before the defenceman has seen a full season at the NHL level.
Klefbom, the Oilers and the fans are right to be excited about the future of this young D-man.