Some big news rocked the Western Hockey League earlier this week, as 18-year-old National Hockey League draft pick and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ryan Pilon didn’t report to camp. In an article on the team’s website, coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon related that Pilon told him that he had lost his passion for hockey and was leaving the team.
The departure of Pilon, a fifth round pick of the New York Islanders from June’s draft, leaves a big hole on the blueline of a Wheat Kings team that may (including myself) thought could contend for a Memorial Cup Championship this season.
But his departure may create a big opportunity for Calgary Flames second round pick Oliver Kylington.
For those of you who have been vacationing this summer, Kylington was drafted by the Flames in the second round (60th overall) in the 2015 Draft. He signed an NHL contract in July following development camp and an agreement was reached between the Flames and Kylington’s Swedish team to sever that deal and move him over to North American for the 2015-16 season.
Because of Kylington’s status as a player who wasn’t drafted from the Canadian Hockey League, he can play in the American Hockey League with the Stockton Heat. Because he was selected in the CHL Import Draft by the Brandon Wheat Kings in June, he can also play with the Wheat Kings.
The issue, from a development perspective, is this: Is it better for Kylington’s development to be playing against grown men in Stockton (in a situation where the Flames can tweak his ice time as they see fit) or in Brandon where he might be able to dominate (but where the Flames don’t exercise direct control))?
Well, that answer to that question depends on a few factors.
- Does Brandon have an import slot available for Kylington?
- Does Brandon have good players for Kylington to play with?
- Does Brandon have enough ice time for Kylington to have in order to develop?
Last season, Brandon’s two spots for import players were used on Ivan Provorov and Riharts Bukarts. There are four players who could potentially use those spots for 2015-16: Provorov, Bukarts, Kylington, and Austrian import Dario Winkler. For what it’s worth, Bukarts is turning 20 soon and will use up both an import slot and an overage (20-year-old) spot if he stays. He’s in Edmonton’s camp, so there’s a chance he goes pro. Provorov is getting ready for Philadelphia’s camp and has a pro contract, but the Flyers already have eight defensemen on one-way contracts (plus a few prospects going pro). Unless Provorov blows the doors off the place, I think he’s back in Brandon this season. Winkler is in Brandon’s camp, but with Pilon leaving the team, I’d wager that Kylington would be a higher priority for an import spot should it come to that.
Now, if Provorov does come back, Pilon’s departure opens up a plum spot on Brandon’s top pairing alongside him for Kylington. Beyond Provorov and Kylington, Brandon’s blueline boasts names like Colton Waltz, Macoy Erkamps and 2016 NHL Draft prospect Kale Clague. Waltz and Erkamps are both potential overage players who are attending NHL camps, but neither of them have contracts. But the point is this: if Provorov doesn’t go pro, and I don’t think he will, adding Kylington would give Brandon a scary-good blueline in a year that they hope they can get over the hump and win the league title and contend for a Memorial Cup.
And as for ice-time: if Kylington’s as good as everyone thinks he is, and he’s playing with Ivan Provorov, he’s going to be playing a lot. Compare that to Stockton, where he would be battling with some combination of Tyler Wotherspoon, Keegan Kanzig, Kenney Morrison, Jakub Nakladal, Patrick Sieloff, Brett Kulak, Ryan Culkin and Dustin Stevenson for ice-time. Even if the Flames don’t have direct control over Kylington’s ice-time, the Wheat Kings are going to be so dependent on him (if he’s playing with Provorov) that it won’t matter.
It’s a shame that Ryan Pilon has lost his passion for hockey. Hockey’s awesome, and he was good enough at it to get drafted by a National Hockey League team – something virtually nobody gets to do in the grand scheme of things. But his departure from the Brandon Wheat Kings opens up a very specific set of circumstances where the Wheat Kings arguably become a better development situation for Oliver Kylington than the Stockton Heat would be.
But a lot of dominoes still need to fall in order for that to happen – namely Provorov returning to Brandon and the Wheat Kings opening up a second import slot somehow.