Coming into the 2015 draft, the Flames had one very pressing need: defence. Both the big team and the farm were hurting on the blueline, with depth near non-existent as evidenced with their Kris Russell-Dennis Wideman first pairing in the playoffs that year.
Brad Treliving went out and aggressively addressed that, adding Dougie Hamilton via trade, Rasmus Andersson with their first pick of the second round, and then trading up to snag fellow Swede Oliver Kylington at 60. My fondness for Kylington has been well-documented, with my bullish analysis of the mustang defender leading people to literally tag me in notifications about Kylington on Twitter and link me to random articles about him.
While Kylington may not be quite the can’t-miss, Erik Karlsson-lite I make him out to be, reality is he’s still one of the Flames’ better prospects, and with two years of AHL experience under his belt already at just 20 years old, he’s preparing himself to either push for an NHL spot with the Flames, or become one of their most marketable assets. He stays at #5 in our prospects rankings.
A brief history
Oliver Kylington was widely regarded as the best D prospect in the 2015 NHL Draft, and was a surefire top five pick coming into that year. However, his stock fell steadily throughout that season – rightfully or not – as the microscope on him intensified. His once-lauded penchant for high risk/high reward plays was now a source of liability, and the room for improvement in his own zone was now a glaring hole. Kylington was all tools and no toolbox. That, however, doesn’t mean one can’t be fashioned for him, of course. A teenager of immense talent in need of significant grooming and development shouldn’t be such a terrifying prospect given the nature of the NHL draft, yet for whatever reason, was.
Your loss, NHL.
Kylington already had 50 SHL games and 17 Allsvenskan ones when he pulled the Flames sweater over his head, and jumped straight into the AHL from there. His first season was one of adjustments and growth, slowly but surely earning the trust of head coach Ryan Huska in Adirondack, playing 47 games and earning 12 points, with a cup of coffee in the NHL to finish the season. He was also snubbed off Sweden’s World Junior team (along with Rasmus Andersson) for reasons unbeknownst to man.
With a year of North American pro hockey under his belt, Kylington needed a significant step forward in year two, and made just that. He became one of the Heat’s workhorses, logging heavy minutes night in and night out and not looking one bit out of place. He bumped his point totals to 27 in 60 games (0.45 PPG as opposed to 0.25 in year one), and played a lead role for Sweden in the World Junior Championships.
His biggest strides came in his own zone however, as Stockton’s coaching staff slowly brought the young Swede’s game along, simplifying decision making behind his blueline in particular. The question with Oliver Kylington has never been can he create plays and move the puck, it’s can he stop plays and disrupt the puck.
Calgary Flames development coach Ray Edwards noted one big improvement Kylington needs to make (that they’re confident he’ll be able to) is eliminating big mistakes from his game.
The thing with Oliver, and we’ve talked to him about this in his exit meetings, we talked about it with him when we left at development camp, was he has the ability to make a lot of plays. The thing he has to eliminate from his game, is he has to eliminate the big gaffe. He has the confidence to make plays, the problem with Oliver is he wants to make every play. There’s sometimes he just has to live to fight another day and make a simple play. But he has the confidence and the want to make really difficult plays. And he can make them, but there’s times when you have to manage the game, manage the situation and live to fight another day.
Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska pointed out how young Kylington is and how much he’s improved since he arrived in the AHL as an 18-year-old.
There have been significant changes in Oliver’s game in regards to how he plays with and without the puck, how he is offensively, how he is defensively. He’s a much more complete player than what he was when he first came here. Now is the time where, whether or not he’s 20 or 30, he has to find the urgency to take the next step now where he has to be a more dominant guy each and every night that he’s on the ice in regards to what he’s doing with the puck and the decisions that he’s making.
What comes next?
The next steps for Kylington are essentially detailed in the quotes above. He needs to iron out those final eyesore wrinkles from his game in the form of the “big mistakes”, as Edwards described them. The outlet pass up the middle to the other team, the D-to-D pass that springs an opposing breakaway, the mystifying giveaways created from an unwillingness to embrace the simple play need to dissipate. It’s clear everyone around Kylington has been hammering home the need to simplify his game and this season needs to be Kylington’s freest of those mistakes yet. Killing them (with fire, heh) from his repertoire alone would likely move him to the top of the list for call-up, given the NHL’s razor thin margin of error and the magnitude a Kyli-error could have on the Flames if he’s still prone to regular brain farts.
Kylington also needs to take the step from one of the most dominant blueliners on the Heat to one of the most dominant blueliners in the AHL. Prospect progression is never linear, but it does follow that after two full American League seasons, a high-end prospect should be well enough equipped to dominate the league and serve notice to his NHL bosses that he’s not just knocking on the door for a call-up, but outright dismantling it. It’s time for Kylington to prove he’s still worthy of the bluechip tag he’s carried with him most of his hockey playing life.
With the arrival of new top blueline talent like Adam Fox and Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington’s 2017-18 season will very much decide whether he stays as a top five Flames prospect, or falls behind the young bucks hot on his tail. If the Flames have any injuries on the blueline, Kylington will likely have to battle the likes of Tyler Wotherspoon and Rasmus Andersson for the call-up, and it’s all up to him to distinguish himself. He’s quickly reaching a point where he can no longer ride pedigree, and will have to force his way into the NHL on a Flames team stacked to gills on defense. If not, he risks becoming trade fodder for a blossoming team looking to add to its NHL roster, or worse yet, fade off into the abyss of prospect has-beens.
My love for Kylington might be unconditional, but Flames managements’ certainly won’t be.
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