Photo by Steven Christy
In large corporations “futurecasting” is something that is done regularly. Suits sit in a room, usually a wooden table separating them with cobb salads strewn from one end to the other, and they look at where their company has been, where they are at now, and attempt to do the impossible – predict the future. For some that means crunching numbers, for others it’s about managing equities, and for another it’s managing people. But in all circumstances one thing is the keystone of any futurecasting session – there is risk in assuming things about the future.
Michael Eisner, the CEO of the Disney Corporation, once famously stated in a board meeting, “Well, when you’re trying to create things that are new, you have to be prepared to be on the edge of risk.” This came after he was reshuffling higher end employees, managing dollars more towards the better parts of Disney, and placing all of his chips on Walt Disney’s dream. Say what you will about Eisner, the man knew that the future had risk.
Take Oscar Klefbom for example, a defender with wild expectations placed upon him from the day he was drafted. Drafted nineteenth in 2011, he has logged just over fifty AHL games, and another 17 in the NHL in his rookie campaign. Having struggled with shoulder injuries, and inconsistency on the ice, perhaps there is some concern in what the Oilers are doing with him.
Over the weekend he was swapped for Brad Hunt in the NHL roster. This shouldn’t be viewed as Oscar’s “one shot”, but rather his continued “toe dip”. There are things worth mentioning as he prepares to log a few more NHL minutes.
The greatest single development issue that most defenders have in the minors is simply positioning. Whether they are overseas prospects, Canadian junior graduates, or collegiate diploma earners, the size and speed of the AHL can seem baffling to most. The league takes its lumps for being “less than NHL”, but that doesn’t mean that the quality of competition isn’t high end. We noticed this last season, and in brief snippets this season, and that is that positioning when the puck is coming towards you can leave players snake bitten by even a subpar forward.
Let me explain. As Oscar Klefbom develops as a defender, watch his feet. Not necessarily while he’s skating, but when he’s standing still. You can tell where his next movement is going to be based on his footwork. A season ago he would get caught nonparallel with the wall moving backwards, and centermen would zoom around him. Chasing the puck instead of strategically assuming where it will go based on open ice has been a problem. Even assistant coach, Gerry Fleming mentioned this at yesterday’s game, “he has to manage the game inside the game, and let the play develop in front of him. This also means he needs to be more smart with the puck long before it hits his stick.”
You will notice an uptick in his scoring in the early parts of this season. But don’t let seven points in six games fool you. The scoring is coming because he has a much better supporting cast around him. In fact the Barons have scored over thirty goals in under ten games. This is a different offensive monster than the one Klefbom was tangled in a year ago. That makes a difference.
But let me earmark that statement, and return to something that has been good – passing. For all the goodness that surrounds him offensively, he has indeed learned to pass the puck with confidence. The movement from defensive zone to offensive zone, in particular, has been very good. There was a time when Martin Marincin made this transition, and it made him a better defensive prospect. By creating a legit first or second pass up ice, it allows the defender to get in position. Passes greater than 15′ feet have primarily been the struggle, and that seems to be going away. Great news for forwards receiving his passes, and for the defense expecting to not get caught in an odd man rush.
Let’s be honest, sometimes the game between the ears gets the best of folks. Whether I’m playing Boom Beach on my iPad or Oscar Klefbom is being paid to play hockey, a little positivism goes a long way. In all seriousness, there is a confidence to the sophomore defender that we didn’t really see until the end of last season. This has paved the way for him to be a better player despite his defensive pair. Although there are times where he struggles to cover the tail end of a play that his partner might have bumbled. Not that he’s expected to be a perfect savior for everyone on the ice, but like a left fielder easing in on a shortstop playing a ground ball, you gotta be ready.
Klefbom is ready to beat the odds, especially in his mind. Prepare to see moments where he seems a chiseled veteran, and moments where you would rather close your eyes. However, always remember that this is a futurecasting situation, not a solution in 14-15 to the ailments of the Oilers defense. You insert him in to the lineup A) because he has earned it, and B) he truly is the best option at the moment. Don’t expect him to world beat, but do expect him to be the future. I think he’s getting closer every day.