What Ryan Pilon Leaving Brandon Could Mean For Oliver Kylington

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.

  1. Does Brandon have an import slot available for Kylington?
  2. Does Brandon have good players for Kylington to play with?
  3. 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.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I’d argue that Stockton is a better place for Kylington. The Flames can have direct control over his development there, whereas in the CHL there’s a chance that the coach says “go nuts” and doesn’t focus as much on his defensive development, which seems to be his primary deficiency.

    As to the numbers he’s up against, he’s played more pro games than most of the guys on the farm team, and of the guys you mentioned, Kanzig should be in the CHL or ECHL, and Sieloff is a borderline writeoff at this point. I think it’s less crowded than it appears at first glance.

      • SmellOfVictory

        His skating is still pretty terrible (I realize his top end speed is “fine”, but his lateral movement and acceleration were butthole-puckering last time I saw him), and he has minimal puck handling ability.

          • SmellOfVictory

            The last dev camp. Honestly, he didn’t look much better than the previous dev camp, and people raved about how much his skating had improved year over year. I think there are a bunch of size queen fans who are deluding themselves into thinking he’s a decent skater now because they like the idea of a 6’6 behemoth on the blueline.

          • SmellOfVictory

            I was only there at Dev Camp 2015 for the scrimmage, but I thought his skating looked solid. Not great, but not a liability.

            However, his general lack of puck skills were undeniably lacking.

          • SmellOfVictory

            Watched plenty of Hitmen games with him last year. Unless he has improved on his skating immensely since last year, he’s ECHL bound for now, especially with the depth on defense in Stockton. I understand positioning is key with slow footed defensemen, but his stats are misleading as he played on a pairing with Travis Sanheim, who played at an elite level in the WHL last year. I don’t really see him having any NHL potential until he improves his skating.

            I also say the ECHL because I don’t think the WHL is the best spot for him. His deficiencies will be missed as an overager in the WHL.

          • SmellOfVictory

            Exactly. If the Flames didn’t have so many defensemen bound for the AHL, Kanzig might get a spot there. As it is, he’s likely bound for Adirondack, and Pat Sieloff will almost certainly join him there. Maybe even Dustin Stevenson too.

  • maggotbrain

    I think Brandon is perfect for kyllington. People seem to forget the kid is 18 and had a rough year last season. Let him dominate against players his own age play all the minutes and get his confidence going. The only way he plays his end to end game is with that confidence. And he’s going to play for brad mccrimmon, I don’t think that’s a bad situation for him on the least.

  • RedMan

    He already has experience playing against men and his skating is so elite it won’t develop his game, it’ll just cover his deficiencies. Stockton. Better he starts with less minutes there and is developed properly in the pro game by Flames coaches than to have him skate circles around 16 and 17 year olds.

  • RedMan

    I trust the pro staff in Calgary will make this decision once they ave evaluated Kylington at the rookie tourny and camp.

    I think Ryan Wilson also factors into this. if he makes the team, it is going to push others south.

  • FlamesRule

    Seems it could be his confidence on ice in all situations that needs development. Brandon would offer the best opportunity for this. 1 year in junior, 1 year in the A and them he has a shot to be a Flame full time when Wides is gone.

  • BurningSensation

    I’m still holding out hope Kyillington really is the Swedish Bobby Orr and will make the NHL roster outright.

    Failing that Polyanna scenario I hope he goes pro in the AHL and earns an early call-up when Wilson or Smid suffer their inevitable injury.

  • supra steve

    The problem with assigning Kylington to Brandon is two-fold: 1) it may not actually develop his game, since he’s been destroying juniors for about three years and has been playing pro for two; 2) because you can’t adjust upward. If he’s assigned to the WHL he has to stay there. All year.

  • piscera.infada

    …[In Brandon] where the Flames don’t exercise direct control.

    That’s the crux of the entire argument for me. If Kylington needs to work on specific areas of the game (whether they be mental, positioning, defensive) in order to reach the high ceiling we’ve all heard about, the Flames would do well to exercise complete control over that development. In Brandon, they have their own tickets and merchandise to sell, and championships to win. In all likelihood, that means they’re much more likely to tailor everything to his strengths, as opposed to developing his weaknesses.

  • KACaribou

    I think everyone should give the kid a break. Kanzig doesn’t have the speed or skills yet, but it doesn’t mean he can’t get them. The young man is a semi, and he has to learn how to drive his big rig properly. His size is intimidating though, and wasn’t he one of the top +/- on the Hitmen? So there’s some hope here. I think some of the criticism has been unfair at this point.

    • RedMan

      the first time I saw Chara skate, i thought someone was joking – no way he could play at this level. boy was i wrong. If these big guys can put it together, admittedly a long shot for most ginormous guys,they can be serious game changers. Sure Kanzig’s a long shot, but he still has a shot. fingers crossed.

  • RedMan

    there is good arguments for both the AHL and CHL nd i am glad it isn’t me making the decision. at the end of the day, I trust the team will understand what’s best for what they want and need out of the year for Kylington.

    at first i thought the CHL was best, but I am starting to agree with some here who say that his elite skating will allow him to hide weaknesses in his game instead of addressing them, while the AHL will give him a better view of where he needs to work. Let alone the fact that in the AHL he is under direct supervision of the flames, who will focus on development, whereas the CHL team will focus on winning the year at all costs, not development. that not to say the CHL doesn’t develop, sure they do, but it would not be their #1 priority.

  • I think the Flames org has a pretty good relationship with the people in Brandon. I don’t think there’s any problems from Brandons side of things if the Flames send their players there and ask the coaches to work with them on certain aspects of their game given that Klimchuk was traded there.

    I always kinda thought given Kylington’s rawness he would be in Brandon this year a bit closer to home where the Flames can better influence his development. That being said I could also see him instantly being better than a lot of the players on that AHL blueline and so easily he could jump into the top 3 there.

    Shows how far along the road we’ve come when we’re talking about the level of depth of the organization forcing kids to stay and develop in the WHL.