Oscar Klefbom has finally had the chance to find his rhythm, and it’s paying off in terms of his development.
Injuries have kept the Edmonton Oilers 19th overall pick in 2011 off the ice for almost all of last year and parts of this season. Since returning to the ice for the Oklahoma City Barons on January 17, after missing six games, Klefbom has been gaining confidence with every game he’s played.
“Since after Christmas, it’s been a really good time for me,” Klefbom said. “I’m feeling a lot more confidence on the ice and with the puck too. The last month has been really good for me.”
It’s been a process for the 20-year-old blueliner in his first season of North American professional hockey. As expected, there has been an adjustment period.
“I think he’s made tremendous strides from the start of the year,” Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson said. “At the start of the year, I think he was trying to adapt to the North American style. He struggled at times, which is normal for a player that didn’t play a lot of games last year. He was out for most of the season, so there was always an expected adjustment period.”
That adjustment period is over now and Klefbom is settling in.
“Right now, I feel pretty good,” Klefbom said. “Obviously, it was a pretty big adjustment for the type of game over here compared to the one in Sweden. Right now, the injury feels really good and I’m starting to get some games under my belt so it feels really good.”
Nelson is elated with the progress, “Since he came back from his injury, I think he’s been playing great hockey for us. He’s been very consistent, he’s played solid in his own end and I think some of the things we’ve been trying to teach, he’s taken to and his game is really solid right now.”
Offensively, Klefbom has been improving. In the Barons’ recent two-game series against the Charlotte Checkers, the young defenceman finished +3 with eight shots on goal. While the points have been absent, the improvement is showing.
“It’s been better and better,” Klefbom said. “I think it’s been (because of) my confidence coming back. I’m feeling more confident with my skating, with the puck and without the puck too. It feels like I can jump up in plays and show off my offensive skills too.”
Todd Nelson and the Barons have begun to rely heavily on Klefbom and, in tandem, have seen some recent team success. Klefbom is earning the important minutes for Oklahoma City.
“He’s a player that we can look at for trying to preserve a win,” Nelson said. “If we’re up by a goal, we’re putting him out for the last minute of play. He has tremendous stamina and I think that he’s on the right path. I can only see him getting better. Right now, he’s played the best hockey of his North American career.”
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish was in Oklahoma City over the last weekend to observe the Barons and the Oilers prospects. Klefbom is well aware that he is being watched by the Oilers brass and is constantly working to get better as he closes in on taking the next step towards NHL duty.
“I work everyday with (OKC Assistant Coach) Rocky Thompson to try and get better with my quick feet,” Klefbom said. “I’m a pretty big defenceman so I need to be very mobile and very smart on the ice to play in the NHL. The shot can always be better to play in the NHL, it can always be improved. It’s the small details.”
As a team, the Barons have made their own strides as of late. Oklahoma City is 6-0-0-1 in their last seven games and is fighting for a playoff spot in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference. Despite the slow start to the season, OKC finds itself gaining some momentum.
“It’s very similar to what we saw last year, where we finally got our team together,” Nelson said. “There haven’t been as many transactions and we’ve got a group together that’s starting to buy in to the team concept and they’re playing well together. It’s very similar to what we saw last year and hopefully the trend will be the same where we’ll get into the playoffs and have a good playoff run. Right now, we’re a team where we’re playing hard for each other and I think that’s the reason for our success.”
For the young prospects, such as Oscar Klefbom, all of the hard work and effort is finally paying dividends.
“Yes, absolutely,” Klefbom said. “We maybe had a tough start to the season, but right now it feels like everyone is feeling more confident, especially me, on the ice. We feel very strong as a team right now.”
The hope is the Barons can continue their recent level of play and slip into the playoffs. A postseason run can only help the development of a player like Klefbom who is just now finding his groove.
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