Oscar Klefbom - #8 in the Top 25 Under 25

Bruce Bennett

If healthy, everyone agrees that Oscar Klefbom has the material of a skilled NHL shutdown defenseman. If healthy.

Once cringes, slightly, when ranking Oscar Klefbom. Klefbom only turns twenty in July but has played 67 games over three seasons. His size is good, his athleticism is good, by all unverifiable accounts he's developing the all-important on-ice intelligence to defend the game at professional speed. He seems to have the right attitude. His coach in Sweden, Leif Carlsson, likes Klefbom and gives him meaningful ice time, where Klefbom is short on offensive flash but long on all-round ability.

That offense is worrying, though; as has been pointed out even defensive defensemen can get results sometimes. And, oh yeah, that little problem of a season-ending shoulder injury in November. Shoulder injuries are the bubonic plague of the post-Sather Edmonton Oilers, in that half the population gets it and when they do you just paint the red "X" on their door because there's no known cure. Hopefully Klefbom is being treated primarily by Swedish doctors, but when I learned that Klefbom had come to Edmonton to consult with Dr. Nick Rivera and the Oilers medical staff I frankly docked him a spot.

Nobody disagrees that, if he's healthy and continues his progress, Klefbom has a good shot at a meaningful NHL career. The question is whether he's the lowest-ranked of the second class of prospects or the highest-ranked of the third. Klefbom was playing his third season of professional hockey and was an important, regular defenseman in one of the five best leagues in the world; that counts for a lot. But he's always got some injury problem holding him back, and with his lack of offense he doesn't have enough leeway to get too far off course. He's an awful tweener, even if he's still promising.

I mean, obviously he could never be as good as MIKE FUCKING BROWN, but other than that he's doing okay.


Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Alan
Ben
Bruce
DB
Derek
JW Michael Ryan
Scott
8 Oscar Klefbom 1993-07-20 19 2011
9 7 7 10 9 9 8 8 7

Previous Rank: 9

I kept Klefbom in precisely the same position on my rankings as when I wrote his article last time; he moves up one spot largely because the other prospects in the five-to-ten range have dropped down. Not that Klefbom's been without credit on the ice, it's just set against his debit with the physiotherapist.

In 2011-12 Klefbom had a flawed but promising season where he got real minutes marred by a thigh problem and what we're assured were a couple of minor concussions. Now a less flawed and more promising season has been written off entirely due to his shoulder. At least he's not injuring the same area repeatedly, say I, grasping for hope.

If we're lucky Klefbom's career trajectory can roughly follow Ladislav Smid's. Smid was also a no-offense defenseman in a good European league, although not one quite as good as Sweden. Still, he was playing regular professional hockey as a teenager, had very similar size, a rather similar skillset... and good shoulders.

The injuries! We keep coming back to them! Not just the shoulder but everything! To quote Derek Blasutti on the matter:

Oiler fans have already seen a couple of first round picks go through serious injury issues and fail to live up to expectations. I'm not saying Oscar Kelfbom is going to be Marc-Antoine Pouliot or Alex Plante, but 2 major injuries in 2 years is worrisome. These are important developmental years and it hurts to waste them by spending time just to get back to the level you were at a couple of months ago.

DB knows just how to get my goat, invoking the holy name of Saint Marc Pouliot, but it's a good comparison. Then again, Pouliot kept his glass body into his early professional career and was never able to establish himself. It's possible that Klefbom's injuries will be ameliorated by training, nutrition, and facilities at the NHL level. It's also possible they won't be: that's why Klefbom is eighth rather than fifth. It's too early to abandon ship on Klefbom and start ranking him behind the aspiring-third-liners and hopeful-powerplay-guys. He's the Costa Concordia, not the Titanic.

I don't wish to rehash my on-ice praise of Klefbom from last time, but largely I don't have to: his playing credentials are generally accepted. In fact, there seems to be less controversy about Klefbom's actual playing ability than any prospect south of Hall and north of Moroz. He isn't fancy, but already in Sweden he's the sort of non-fancy defenseman who chips in a few points, keeps opposition chances down, goes second- or third-pairing minutes and wins hockey games.

It's just "will he be healthy enough to do it in Edmonton?" that determines where you rank him.

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