Why Kylington Should Be Sent To The Brandon Wheat Kings

It
was announced Oct. 29 that the Brandon Wheat Kings shipped Latvian
import Rihards Bukarts to the Portland Winterhawks
, leaving them with one
open spot for an import player.

Hmm,
guess who comes to mind?

With
just four games under his belt of pro hockey, the Flames 2015 second-round pick,
Oliver Kylington, is a name that should be considered for that open import spot
in Brandon, especially given his early struggles in Stockton. Let’s explore why
the 18-year-old Swede should be sent
to the WHL in light of the news.

STRUGGLES
IN STOCKTON

It’s
unfortunate, but some players just aren’t ready for the professional level at
18. I know, shocking, right?

Now
we know that seems to be the case with Oliver Kylington. He’s not ready for
professional hockey yet. No, that doesn’t mean his stock has dropped
organizationally. He just needs to go through the regular development of most
18 year olds.

When
you watch Kylington play in Stockton, immediately his skating comes to mind. It’s
been mentioned all over the internet, in print, and vocally: Kylington’s a
great skater. The best in his draft class in fact. However, his legs have only
taken him so far with the Heat before some concerns have crept up.

Strength

Puck
battles and net-front battles have not been kind to Kylington so far. The vast
gulf in strength between him and his opponents is as clear as air. It
highlights the primary attribute Kylington is going to have to improve in order
to compete at this level.

As
a result, Kylington spends a great deal of time defending in his own zone, battling
for pucks that he tends to lose and then being unable clear the zone when he
finally does retrieve the puck. Net-front battles are even worse yet. He simply
doesn’t have the strength to move anyone from in front of Jon Gillies. To make
matters worse, because he’s on the bottom pairing alongside Patrick Sieloff,
they tend to get matched against some of the bigger, meaner, grinder-types.
This isn’t an issue for Sieloff, but it’s noticeable for Kylington.

Decision Making

Being
unable to win puck battles is one thing, but if he does win a puck battle he
seems to struggle with his decision making. He doesn’t seem to know what to do
with it. By default he wants to use his skating ability to move the puck out of
the zone. While that’s okay sometimes, it doesn’t cut it all of the time. That’s
when he’s got to make the smart pass to exit the zone, which doesn’t happen as
often as it should. Often he’ll make bad reads by choosing the wrong support
option, which results in a turnover.

With
that said, he has settled down somewhat in rushing the puck and has become more
cognisant of turning the puck over in the neutral zone so he isn’t caught up
ice. Perhaps Ryan Huska and Todd Gill asked him not to rush the puck as much,
to let a forward do it. However, from time to time, his instinct will still
kick in and he’ll do what got him drafted – use his legs to move the puck out
of his zone, even if it’s not the best option.

There
needs to be an adjustment period, a sweet spot if you will; a period where he
can continue to use his strengths liberally while at the same time learning to
become a complete player. That place is Brandon, Manitoba.

THE
WHEATIES ARE A FIT

The
Wheat Kings are an early favourite to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, meaning they’re
going to be a power house. Just 14 games into the young WHL season they’ve
shown that those expectations weren’t unfounded.

For
Kylington to join a tight-knit team like the Wheat Kings, with their
established group of overagers, young stars in the making (Ivan Provorov, Jace
Hawryluk, and John Quenneville) and one of the most revered junior coaches in
the game today (Kelly McCrimmon) would be important in two ways. First, as a
blooming star himself, Brandon likely wouldn’t miss a beat adding Kylington to
the lineup alongside their existing players. Secondly, Kylington would be
indirectly challenged to keep up to pace in a lineup like Brandon’s. This would
not only help his personal development, but his work ethic as well, which has
been a point of criticism amongst those who have watched Kylington.

Wheat
Kings head coach Kelly McCrimmon wasn’t named an assistant coach for Team Canada in this
year’s World Junior Tournament for nothing. The respect garnered over the years
has come from his ability to mentor young players through respect rather than
rule, which speaks to McCrimmon’s longevity in the WHL. His patience and
respect for young players is what would make him a wonderful coach for
Kylington. It’s known that Kylington can have differences of opinion with coaches,
so if McCrimmon can establish mutual trust, that will go a long way in his
development.

Iron
sharpens iron and having Kylington in the same lineup (or even on the same
pairing) as the Flyers’ first-rounder Ivan Provorov is an incredibly enticing
thought if you’re Brad Treliving. Right now, Kylington’s blue line partner is Sieloff.
Not to take anything away from ol’ Pat, but simply watching Provorov dance his
way around the ice should be enough to push Kylington that extra mile.

Unfortunately,
there may be a chance they won’t be paired together after all. There are five
regular left-shooting defensemen and just one right-shooter. Neither Provorov
nor Kylington are accustomed to playing on their off-side. Therefore, it may be
too much to force an on-ice relationship between the two defensemen. The more
likely scenario would be Kylington on the second pairing with first unit power
play duties. Would it be worth it to send him down then? I’ll let you decide.

HASTE
MAKES WASTE

It
was a mistake to put Kylington in the AHL to begin with. Yes, it’s only four
games into the season, but he looks lost out there except for occasional spurts
of creativity in the offensive zone. Outside of his occasional moments, Kylington
looks like he’s caught off guard by the physicality and nastiness of the AHL –
and that’s a huge issue early in the season. Once the puck finds its way into
his corner, more often than not he loses that puck battle, which is why he
spends most of his time in his own zone.

Sometimes
a player can overcome what they lack physically by using their innate skills in
the skating, stick handling and hockey smarts departments (e.g., Gaudreau).
Unfortunately, Kylington just isn’t there yet and it’s not worth the damage to
his body or development to keep him with the Heat.

The
right thing to do would be to mulligan and see if McCrimmon would interested in
filling that import spot with one of the most highly touted prospects in the
Flames system. There’s absolutely no need to rush him. Stockton’s blue line
(with the addition of Nakladal yesterday) is currently sitting at nine
defenders. I can guarantee you they won’t miss Kylington, not with the players
they already have that can replace him on defense.

In
due time, Kylington will become a hell of a player in professional hockey, but
his time isn’t now.

  • Christian Roatis

    *disowns Mike for speaking ill of Oli*

    In all seriousness though, there’s no need to rush Kylington. If he’s not adjusting smoothly to the AHL, the WHL certainly will not hurt. He’s 18, after all.

    • ClayBort

      This is my view as well Christian.

      His contract slides in the AHL or the WHL. If by game 20-30 he’s struggling to fit in, maybe make the call then. I’d be in no rush to send him down now, however.

      Truthfully, he’s probably a better hockey player today than Kanzig is. I’ve never been impressed by Kanzig live. I think he’d get torn apart in the AHL. Isn’t Kanzig still eligible as an over-ager in the WHL?

      • Big Ell

        Truthfully, he’s probably a better hockey player today than Kanzig is.

        Riley “Just drafted in the 7th round” Bruce is probably a better hockey player today than Kanzig is.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Good points, but I think there are factors that work in favour of keeping Kylington in the AHL, as well. If he needs to build strength, I don’t think there’s a better way for him to do that than with trainers within the Flames organization; also (and I’m making some assumptions here) I believe there is actually less travel time in the Pacific AHL division than there would be in the WHL, given that the vast majority of games are played within California.

    Decision-making is a tougher one; if McCrimmon ensured that Kylington was coached to iron out his warts, and not just to win games, the WHL might be best for this. But some junior coaches are willing to give their star players long leashes, which leads to them relying on their strong suits (physical abilities in this case) while neglecting their weak ones (decision-making). It’s a lot easier to control what Kylington is trained on when he’s in the AHL than it would be if he was in Brandon. And because Stockton has a pretty sparse schedule (~60 games), there’s a ton of time for practice.

  • Big Ell

    I respectfully disagree. The AHL is a development league first and foremost and the primary mission of a farm team is the development of players, not necessarily winning (though that’s always nice).

    Kylington is making mistakes? Good. Great. That’s how you learn and there’s absolutely zero rush on this guy. If he takes four years down there, so be it. I just don’t see what he learns from skating circles around inferior competition in junior. Does it make him stronger? No. Does it make him smarter? No. He merely uses his superior skating ability to dig himself out of trouble. Right now, he can’t do that. He’s being forced to increase his hockey IQ, forced to improve his positioning, forced to become stronger. That is exactly what he needs. Otherwise, we just do this all over again next season or in two seasons.

      • ClayBort

        Why let him reinforce the same deficiencies in junior?

        Strength, at least, is something he can increase every single day given the right program.

        I have no issue with Kylington playing limited minutes for now. Ideal? No, but I still contend he’ll learn what he needs to learn more quickly and more properly where he is now.

  • ClayBort

    I’m much more worried if we send him to junior he won’t develop the way he needs, because he won’t have to get better to dominate that league. He’s proven capable of playing against men. Pronman also said he doesn’t look out of place. Let him be challenged.

    For these reasons, I would like him to play in the AHL. The NHLE of the two leagues is .30 for the CHL, and .4-.5 for the AHL, so it’s nowhere close to the leap from junior to the NHL. He’s already played in arguably better men’s leagues. I’m also not sure to the extent it matters, but Huska has a strong track record developing Dmen in Kelowna. He also has a vested interest in the Flames and their talent pool going forward, especially if he wants to progress in the organization. I trust him to provide Kylington with the tools he needs more than a WHL team. I’m also worried about the minute sharing that could happen with how strong Brandon is. If he’s only playing 15-20minutes, those are better minutes in the AHL.

  • Burnward

    Mike,
    A couple of comments.

    First, the structure of your article is ass-backwards. Instead of stating your premise, supporting it with facts/arguments and ending with a suitable, supported conclusion, you do just the opposite. You start with a situation/solution: a Junior team made a trade and look, they have space for another player. Then you throw out an idea, well Kylington could fit in that role, and here’s why. Then end with your premise which should have headed the article, namely sending him to the AHL was a mistake in the first place. The article would have been much more consistent and coherent if you started with your premise that Kylington should never have been sent to the AHL in the first place, supported it with recent evidence, and ended with the timely solution. Just my thoughts on it….

    Secondly, as for Kylington and all of your evidence, I’ll have to defer to you somewhat as I’m certain(?) you’ve been following the Heat closer than I. Having said that I have to give a lot of credence to Haakan Loob who stated the AHL was the best place for him, and to Flames management who has seen him up close and personal.

    However, all that aside, my take is that Kylington was/is in need of a strong wake-up call as to the things needed to move forward and advance, rather than always hearing the “best skater in class”, top5 potential etc he has been for the past couple of years. Certainly falling to 60th in the draft would be a shock and eye-opener in that regard, but on the ice being in a position where he struggles is JUST WHAT HE NEEDS. Going back to Junior and dominating there isn’t going to help, he needs to be challenged and shown exactly what he needs to do to get to the next level. I believe that is best done in the AHL and it is happening. He is mature for his age, he is positive and confident. He has shown leadership, now he needs to get working on some of the obvious (to us) things you mentioned. It’s a developmental league after all. Heck, one of your main points (size and strength) is a key factor even with NHL players.

  • Big Ell

    As a Flames fan I really want this kid to succeed! What concerns me is that many teams passed on him round after round. The positive feedback has obviously come from the Flames organization but I would like to hear what his issues were…he is not off to a great start but I do recognize he is an 18 year old and could be a long term project.

  • OKG

    A few qualms, Mike:

    1) “Puck battles and net-front battles have not been kind to Kylington so far. The vast gulf in strength between him and his opponents is as clear as air. It highlights the primary attribute Kylington is going to have to improve in order to compete at this level.”

    The Junior schedule is pretty awful for building strength. The Heat schedule is arguably better for that…lots of weight room time with excellent facilities and a dedicated trainer…

    2) “Neither Provorov nor Kylington are accustomed to playing on their off-side.”

    Kylington actually played a lot of right-side in Sweden… he’s arguably Brodie-esque in that he’s more experienced on his off-side.

  • Zarny

    For a love of all that is good and holy, learn from the Oilers mistakes don’t repeat them.

    The best thing for any prospect is to be set up for success.

    Getting your a** handed to you on a nightly basis is not development. The Flames’ trainers will work will Kylington wherever he is.

    In the WHL, he’ll play huge minutes in all situations and likely dominate. That is far more valuable than being a bit player for 13 minutes a night in the AHL.

    It’s also far easier to iron the warts out of your game when you are one of the best players on the ice. It’s virtually impossible when you are one of the worst.

    If Weber, Subban, Pietrangelo etc can play an extra year or two of Junior it certainly isn’t going to hurt Kylington.

    • ClayBort

      Weber, Subban and Pietrangelo were different situations. They weren’t allowed to play in the AHL at 18, so being returned to junior was the only option available if they weren’t NHL ready. If their respective teams could have had them in the AHL, they probably would have.

    • OKG

      This is less an Oilers situation (AKA handing a player a top 6 / top 4 roster spot in the NHL on a platter) and more a Jankowski situation (AKA going into a good developmental league to develop against men).

      Like Kylington, 18 year old Janko was horribly outmatched against men and his numbers suffered. It took him until age 21 to finally be bigger and stronger than everybody else in his league, but he showed consistent progression.

      The only reason to take Oliver out of the AHL is if he’s starting to lose CONFIDENCE.

    • OKG

      I would normally agree, but the thing that got him into men’s leagues here and in Europe was his skating. It just seems redundant to go through the same process again.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Can’t say I necessarily agree with you. Playing huge minutes and dominating isn’t necessarily great for development; will it cause a player to get worse? Probably not. Will he learn to get better? Why would he? If you’re already head-and-shoulders above your competition, what do you have to learn from playing against them?

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      I figured as much. Ice-time tells you what Hartley is thinking. I’d rather sit Bollig than a prospect in the press-box, so no sense waiving him. Leave him in the box all year. The only way he plays is if someone injures themselves in pre-game warm-ups.

      • Cfan in Vic

        I would LOVE it if this was actually the way he is handled this year, especially once Ferland is back.

        My gut tells me that we’ll see a lot more Bollig that is warranted.

  • McRib

    I think both routes are positive…. If he stays in the AHL I think it will help greatly with adding structure to his game. Obviously his questionable decision making process at times is why he fell out of the first round despite his immense talents (best skater in the 2015 Draft not named McDavid).

    The only thing he might gain from going back to the WHL is it could give him the freedom to work on his offensive game. Junior is where to learn what pinches you can afford to make and which ones to lay off. Junior coaches expect Junior players to make Junior mistakes. Whereas AHL coaches expect players to be professionals and not make mistakes.

    The biggest question I would ask though is what is one year in the WHL… Everything positive I just said about the AHL would just slide to next year…. Then he is in the NHL in 2017. As long as he works on improving his game the kid has all world talent, nothing will prevent him from being a long time NHLer except himself. Can he still refine his offensive game in the AHL/NHL sure, but it might take longer than expected.

    Lastly Kelly McCrimmon is without a doubt one of the brightest talent prognosticators in the CHL. Not many are good enough to turn down Toronto Maple Leaf GM positions. Honestly for me that is it, Ryan Huska is good… but he is no McCrimmon.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    I’ve asked this before and nobody answered. Is the ECHL an option like it was for Kanzig? It would give him the benefits of 1) staying in the Flames system, working on what the Flames want him to. 2) Easier competition so he won’t be in over his head, 3)He would be joining a team that’s on an absolute tear (5-0-0), and 4)He would still be learing how to play against men.

    To me, and my uniformed opinion, this seems like one of the best, if not the best, option.

    • ClayBort

      Pretty much every set of rankings either listed him as the best skater, or second to only McDavid. If I remember correctly, he was listed over McDavid in most. Both players were touted as ‘elite’ skaters. However, McDavid is ‘elite’ in pretty much every other category, Kylington not so much.

  • SmellOfVictory

    But Arii christened Kylington the steal of the draft within hours of it happening and the greatest flames draft choice ever…not exactly but you get the point.

    The games aren’t played on the stat sheets, all players need time to properly develop. Lesson learned, never annoint a 18 year old as an amazing draft pick before he’s even stepped foot on the ice for your team, Oilers fans have perfected doing that and we look just as bad and idiotic when do the same.

  • SmellOfVictory

    “With just four games under his belt of pro hockey” is completely false. He played 50 SHL and 17 Hockeyallsvenskan games in the two seasons before he was drafted.

    “It’s unfortunate, but some players just aren’t ready for the professional level at 18. I know, shocking, right?” seem kind of questionable since he has played the majority of his games at pro level as opposed to junior since he was 16.

    SHL and HA are not developmental leagues. They do not play junior players that much if they don’t contribute. I have no access to AHL games, so I do not know how he’s played in the four games there, but you can not say he can’t hack it at the pro level when he has for two years.

  • SmellOfVictory

    My biggest disagreement is in the coach. McCrimmon is great, definitely a top coach, but his system has never been known for producing defencemen. Outside of Redden, the only drafted dmen from his system with over 100 NHL games played are Keith Aulie and Sven Butenschoen. I accept that there are a few notable names coming up at present, but for a 27 year run it seems to be the exception. Huska on the other hand was actively part of the Rockets system who have put out multiple prominent defensemen during his tenure(Weber, Myers, Schenn, Barrie). I’d say leave him with the coach who has a better track record for this sorta thing.

  • SmellOfVictory

    The ECHL option seems perfectly valid to me. Especially now that the Flames own their affiliate they should have or be able to acquire the resources there to aid in his development.

    Playing in the ECHL appears to have done wonders for Brett Kulak’s development last season. I’d imagine Kylington would be on the team’s top pairing; he’d be playing among mostly college hockey veterans and playing a role similar to his projected NHL role on the team.

    To the best of my knowledge the ECHL’s difficulty level is slightly lower than that of Allsvenskan where he registered slightly less than a point every two games.

    I’m not sure exactly how difficult the ECHL really is. I believe it’s close to being halfway between that of the WHL and the AHL, if that’s the case then it’s NHLE might be to be around .50 for an 18 year old. (I think it would be about .30 for players over the age of 22.) The AHL appears to be about the halfway point between the WHL and the NHL. The NHLE stat for 18-19 year olds for the AHL is about 0.70 and not 0.45 because they improve more than players in their twenties.