Klefbom's Debut Nears
The Edmonton Oilers have a decision to make regarding the NHL debut of one of their young defensive prospects.
|Photo by OKC Barons/Steven Christy|
Klefbom, the former 19th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, was recalled from the Oklahoma City Barons on an ‘emergency basis’ on Saturday morning. The move was due to a back injury which defenceman Jeff Petry sustained in Thursday night’s game against the New York Islanders.
Klefbom was eager to get on the ice with the big club this morning. It was something he’s been working towards all season.
“It feels really good,” Klefbom said. “This is what you work hard for every day. If I’m going to play, I’m very excited.”
Klefbom has played 45 games with the Barons in his first season of North American professional hockey. After missing the bulk of last season in Sweden, due to an injury, Klefbom says the games he’s played in the AHL have been very beneficial.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Especially when I was injured for the biggest part of last season. I think this season has helped me to adjust a little bit better on the smaller ice. It’s a huge adjustment from the European size. I think it was really good for me.”
Klefbom’s head coach in OKC, Todd Nelson, has recently said that the young Oilers prospect has made ‘tremendous strides’ and that he’s played ‘the best hockey of his North American career’. Those words, coupled with Klefbom’s continued success have given the Oilers hope that he is ready for some NHL action.
|Photo by Getty Images
“Obviously I want to play, of course,” Klefbom said. “I am just waiting for my first NHL game but we’ll see. We’ll just wait for tomorrow.”
That is the problem. Although Klefbom may be ready for a look at the NHL level, he may not get that chance on Sunday. As an emergency recall, Klefbom can only play if Petry is unable to go.
Klefbom was in a similar situation earlier this season, when he was recalled in case a defenceman was unable to play. Although he met up with the team, Klefbom did not play.
By the looks of practice on Saturday, and after talking to the defenceman afterwards, Petry may be healed and ready to play by Sunday.
If that is the case, the Oilers have a decision to make.
“Unless we turn him into a regular recall and you’ve only got four of those after the break and I believe we already burned one with Larsen,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “I might be mistaken on that. It’s either we would send him back and not burn a recall or just keep him and turn him into a (recall).”
The decision of whether or not to play Klefbom is more involved than it appears on the surface. Of course the Oilers want to see what they have in their young defenceman and are eager to do so. However, with Klefbom just now playing his first professional season on this side of the Atlantic Ocean and with the Barons in the middle of a fight for a playoff spot, there are multiple options.
“I’m torn on it, with where Oklahoma City is at right now,” Eakins said. “I want to see Oscar play. He didn’t play a whole bunch last year. I thought he was okay at training camp and I was okay with him being okay because he didn’t play the year before hardly at all. But I do want to see him play at this level. I’m just not sure if right now is the right time or if maybe it’s better to do later. It’s something that (General Manager) Craig (MacTavish) and I will have to talk about.”
|Photo by OKC Barons/Steven Christy
Eakins, a former American Hockey League head coach, sees the benefit in a young player being a part of a push to the playoffs and playing in the postseason as well. It’s also a difficult decision to make because OKC could really use Klefbom. He’s a big part of their team.
“He’s a player that we can look at for trying to preserve a win,” Coach Nelson said in a late February interview. “If we’re up by a goal, we’re putting him out for the last minute of play.”
Eakins sees that as well.
“We talked about it the other day,” Eakins said. “Oscar is a big part of the Oklahoma City team and they’re in a dog fight for a playoff spot right now and we want to get those guys in.”
Even Klefbom, a 20 year-old eager to get a taste of the NHL, can see the benefits in finishing out the season in the AHL.
“You can see it from different angles,” he said. “Myself, I would see it it would be a good experience to play a game or two here and see how it goes. But the playoff time down there is a very good opportunity to play some huge games to gain some more confidence on the ice.”
Eventually, the Oilers will have to make the decision that they feel is best for Klefbom’s development. Either he will gain some confidence and have the opportunity to see what the NHL is about, or he will return to Oklahoma City and gain valuable experience, development and, as long as the team continues to win, confidence. But for now, the Oilers are in ‘wait and see’ mode while the continue to evaluate Jeff Petry and how they’d like to move forward.
“If Petry can’t go, then Oscar is going to get his first shot but if (Petry) can, then we’ve got to make a decision on do we keep him around, let him practice at this level and get him up to speed and get him into a game. Or do we just get him back there and let him continue to be playing and reevaluate this in a couple of weeks.”
Until that decision is made, Klefbom will continue to patiently wait for his debut knowing that it could be sooner rather than later. Regardless of the team’s decision, Klefbom feels that he’s the next man up.
“It’s a big sign that I’m doing something good down there in OKC. It’s a big boost for the confidence.”