Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Klefbom and the 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers

While Craig MacTavish made mention of defenceman Oscar Klefbom as being part of the solution to the Edmonton Oilers blueline woes, perhaps as early as 2013-14, there is no need to rush the youngster to the National Hockey League. Coming off a shoulder surgery which cost him all but a handful of games during the 2012-13 season with Farjestads BK Karlstad in the Swedish Elite League, Klefbom simply needs to play and adjust to life in North America.

Many are hoping the former nineteenth overall pick can produce the type of rookie campaign that former teammate and good friend Jonas Brodin, put together this season in Minnesota. While Brodin did have himself a helluva first season, that may ultimately see him take home the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, he did have a couple of  things help him out during his first year in North America.

One being the Wild having a true top pairing defenceman in Ryan Suter, on top of a number of other capable NHL defencemen. The likes of Brett Clark, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner are not much different, as a collective group, than say the Oilers D core. However, when you throw in a player of Suter's stature into the mix, that all changes.

The former Nashville Predator is a flat out stud and changes the entire complexion of Minnesota's backend. When you have a true elite defenceman, he alone can mask many limitations within a club's blueline and also allow an organization the ability to bring along a young talented player at the NHL level, should they decide to go that route.

Minnesota had that option with Brodin but the Oilers are not so lucky. Barring a major splash that would see them acquiring say a Shea Weber, which is likely nothing more than a pipe dream, Edmonton can not afford to bring in an inexperienced player like Klefbom on board for the '13-'14 season. All you need to do is take a look at Justin Schultz and his up and down rookie year and you see just how inconsistent a first year player can part of a very weak defensive core.

The other point to remember, is like Schultz, Brodin spent time in the American Hockey League during the NHL Lockout. While the Oilers young blueliner was all-world during his time with the Oklahoma City Barons, the Swedish youngster played just nine games with Houston Aeros. Thanks to a broken collarbone, ironically enough, suffered on a hard hit from one Taylor Hall.

He obviously didn't see much ice time during his stay in the AHL but just having him over and acclimatizing himself to life in North America, prior to making the jump to the NHL, was a huge plus for Brodin. In my mind, Klefbom is in the same boat. He may need a little more seasoning due to his shoulder injury but it's life away from the rink, that guys tend to have the most issue with.

While Klefbom would likely have the advantage of having a pair of fellow Swedes in Anton Lander and Magnus Paajarvi around to help with the adjustment, there will still be growing pains. Add to that, the pressure of coming to a group that already has one youngster in place and little depth throughout the rest of the D core and in my mind, you have a recipe for disaster.

Regardless of whether or not he appears to be ready for the NHL, the smart move would be to not rush him into something he may not be ready for. While Edmonton will undoubtedly upgrade their backend during the off-season, they have three guys you could consider locks, in Jeff Petry, Schultz and Ladislav Smid. None of those three are top pairing defencemen and dropping the big Swede into the mix, would only make things worse.

With the Oilers staring at a ton of games against bigger teams like the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, not to mention the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks, the plan should be to acquire some veteran help, not adding a twenty year old raw rookie. The last thing this team needs, is another kid taking on a massive role within the core group.

Moving forward, this organization is hoping the pair of Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz will be their top pairing for years to come. In my mind, there is a very good chance those two will turn into exactly that. However, force feeding Klefbom minutes before he is ready to take them, won't make it happen any sooner. If anything, it could do more damage to his overall development in the long run.

There is no question, the pressure is on the Edmonton Oilers to start making a push up the National Hockey League there should be. Having said that, deviating away from the development plan of one of their better up and coming prospects, who is not already in the NHL, would not only be a mistake for the organization but also a disservice to the player.

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