(Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports)
For those unfamiliar with his situation, let me tell you a story about Oliver Kylington.
During the 2013-14 season, the season prior to his draft eligible season, people that follow the draft began to hear chattering about his skills. He was considered a surefire top five pick in the 2015 Draft. But his stock began to slide throughout the 2014-15 campaign and the Flames bought low, trading up into the end of the second round to take him at 60th overall.
This might shock you, but there were likely members of the hockey world’s collective braintrust that saw a teenager playing with swagger in men’s pro hockey in Sweden and fixated on the flaws. After his first full season in North America – as an 18-year-old – he’s a much more complete player.
And perhaps even more confident in his abilities than he was a year ago.
Kylington has a good handle on what area he’s improved in the most over the past year with the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat.
“I think my defensive game, for
sure,” said Kylington after on-ice sessions at Flames development camp. “Playing on North American ice and playing the game in front of
the net, how do you position yourself in the defensive zone, I think
I improved a lot there.”
In chats we’ve had with Stockton Head Coach Ryan Huska, it was noted that young players (such as Kylington) had to establish themselves as trustworthy, responsible players. In Kylington’s case, it’s likely that the Flames organization really wanted to establish a baseline of strong play away from the puck and in the defensive zone before rewarding him with better zone starts and ice time.
“Like [Coach] Huska says, I need
to know how to play without the puck in the defensive zone,” said Kylington. “That’s
the issue in how I position myself and make responsible plays, smart
plays when it’s time in the game and not to do stupid stuff on the
ice and try to play too fancy. That’s the thing, you need to learn
when you’re young and develop and focus on it.”
Despite some struggles early last season amidst the steep learning curve of the AHL, Kylington seems like almost a completely different person than we saw at development camp last season. The confidence he had in Sweden has followed him over to North America.
“I think my confidence is
taking me where I am right now,” said Kylington. “If I don’t have confidence, I can’t
play my game. I think my game is all about confidence, and my
confidence is really strong, so it’s nothing’s that’s easy to take
away from me. I play with my confidence and I know what I’m good at
and I know what I need to be better on. And I want to be a good
hockey player, responsible, and I try to listen to the coaches and
try to do what they said and just try to play my game.”
The Flames have a few young defensemen in their system who are developing, but a few jobs on the NHL roster could be opening up for the 2017-18 season as Ladislav Smid, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland see their contracts expire. Kylington got his feet wet late last season and wants to establish himself as an option sooner rather than later.
“That’s what I’m working
on,” said Kylington. “The summer training, during the season, I’m just trying to
improve every time and show the coaches that I want to be up there
and that I want to play in the NHL and I’m thankful that I got the chance
the last year here to get one game and see how it feels. Now I know
how it is up there and I’m going to do my best to stay up there and
do a big impact in NHL.”