EDMONTON — Oscar Klefbom doesn’t want to be that guy.
You know, the guy who plays when it’s easy, but always seems to be somewhere else — usually on the trainer’s table — when the bullets are flying. Who says, as Klefbom puts it, “‘Sorry, we had a good year last year. But now it’s time for me to take a year off …’”
The irony is, he has been that guy. And he played hurt all last season so he wouldn’t be that guy again, when his shoulder was bad from the day he arrived in Edmonton after a short summer.
He toughed it out, and to be honest, wasn’t close to the player he was the year before, when he was a healthy, 38-point defenceman at just 23 years old.
Of course, it wasn’t the first spate of bad luck for Klefbom, the handsome, well spoken 25-year-old from Karlstad, Sweden, who has had his share of rotten luck so far.
“Staph infection?” he asked, referring to the, er, injury that cost him most of the 2015-16 season. “That’s not the most common thing, maybe, for the hockey player. To miss almost a whole season? You’re on your way up. You want to show the whole organization what you are capable of. Then you get a staph infection and you can not play ….
“You don’t know if you’re going to miss two years, one month … that was a tough one.”
Klefbom’s career was literally in jeopardy, had that infection not been corralled. But in the end that injury, and the shoulder two years later, are part of the recipe that leaves Klefbom at just 255 games played — barely over the threshold of 250 NHL games where most scouts say you can make a fair judgement on an NHL defenceman.
So, what exactly is Oscar Klefbom? There’s a fine question.
He’s not a bona fide NHL No. 1 defenceman, like Drew Doughty or Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He is, however, Edmonton’s No. 1 defenceman, and the Oilers need him to be their best blueliner if they’re going to contend for a playoff spot.
He’s healthy now. Like his team, he has a chance to be the player he was two seasons ago, running a power play and playing nearly 23 minutes a night.
“We have to see him play some games to really see the difference,” said head coach Todd McLellan, prior to Thursday’s tilt. “We’ll notice the difference when he’s shooting, on execution. Those types of areas where we expect to see a difference.
“We should see a real good, confident player in Oscar Klefbom.”
When he can play, Klefbom is an excellent all-around defenceman who can skate, shoot, defend, work a power play — all the skills of that classic Swedish defenceman who anchors so many blue lines across the National Hockey League today.
He is crucial to what goes on here in Edmonton this winter.
“When I play good the whole team plays good,” he said. “We went to the playoff run, and it wasn’t only me that played well. But so far, I’ve had some success when I get a lot of responsibility from the coaching staff. That feels good.”
He is on a value contract, with five years remaining at $4.167 million. If he stays in the lineup and progresses as most defencemen his age as they hit their mid-20s — if he does what he did two seasons ago — he’s a guy you’re happy to have.
“I want to show that again,” he said. “It’s kind of nice that two years ago, I signed a new contract and there were a lot of expectations, and I showed the fans and the organization that I can play. That I can be that guy, to earn the money, basically.
“I don’t want to be the guy who signs a contract and then says, ‘Oh, the shoulder’s bad.’ It was very nice to show that, and then get hurt (later). Before expectations build up and build up, and everyone says, ‘When are we going to see the $4-million Klefbom?’”
Who are his favourite players to watch? Klefbom thinks long and hard on that one.
“A mix between Duncan Keith and Victor Hedman,” Klefbom decides. “Victor Hedman, he is maybe not an Erik Karlsson on the power play, but he is so good all over the ice. Strong, he skates very well. Duncan Keith, when he was in his prime, he is so good to know when to save his energy to play a lot of minutes. (He and Brent Seabrook) were playing every single night 25, 26 minutes — and he never got tired. He is very smart on the ice.
“Such a good player to watch.”
Will they be saying that about Klefbom come March? If he can stay in the lineup, there’s no reason to think not.