The Stockton Heat were largely driven this year by their defencemen. Three of their top six scorers were defencemen, all putting up 35 points or more and scoring at least 0.55 PPG. It’s not the only reason, but you could perhaps rest most of the blame for the Heat missing the playoffs on the fact that two of their best defencemen were on recall by the Flames during a crucial part of the schedule.
One of the most important, yet still somewhat unheralded for his efforts, this season was 2015 second rounder Oliver Kylington. In his third season with the team, he managed to finish tied for 15th in scoring, 10th in primary points, first in 5v5 points, and second in 5v5 primary points among all AHL defencemen. He will legally be allowed to drink in Stockton in just a few days’ time.
Kylington has put up an impressive season. Does he factor into next year’s plans?
Kylington was heralded as one of the next best things to come out of Sweden thanks to his strong performances in leagues where kids his age usually don’t succeed. He spent the majority of his draft-1 year in the SHL, where he picked up six points in 32 games as a 16-year-old. That convinced scouts that he could be one of the prizes in the loaded 2015 draft.
His draft year was disastrous. Although he had some similar production to his draft-1 year, a bad review from the U18 WJC and some struggles in the SHL and Allsvenskan saw him drop from top potential top five pick all the way into the second round where the Flames traded up to scoop up Kylington. He was projected to be a faller, but getting him in the second round was too good to pass up.
The past two seasons, Kylington has been plying his trade in the AHL, becoming one of the rare teenaged defencemen in that league. His first season was quiet, unfortunately so due to injury (but he did score a North American pro goal before Connor McDavid did, so there’s that), although there were plenty of positives. Kylington saw NHL action at the end of year and generally left a good impression for a rookie.
His second season was another steady improvement. Kylington nearly doubled his PPG output from the year before, this despite spending the majority of his time on a pairing with Kayle Doetzel (16 career professional points, 12 of them coming in the ECHL). A strong performance at the World Juniors, where he led all Swedish defencemen with four points in seven games, saw him win a few player of the game accolades.
Kylington stayed put in Stockton this season, for the most part. He only missed time for undisclosed personal reasons in Sweden, the flu, and being in emergency recall limbo with the Flames.
Throughout the year, he was behind Rasmus Andersson and Tyler Wotherspoon, on the second pairing with Cody Goloubef. He was trusted in pretty much every situation besides PKing, only getting the occasional spin shorthanded. Kylington put up some very respectable numbers in a second pairing role, matching his AHL career assist totals this year.
|GP||G||A||P||Primary points||5v5 Points||5v5 Primary points||NHLe|
Kylington almost immediately hit a rough patch as the season began, but found a consistency to his game sometime around December and ran with it until the end of the season.
An important aspect of Kylington’s development is that he stepped forward as a 5v5 producer. He relied less on powerplay and 4v4/3v3 scoring this season, jumping in 5v5 points (16 to 24) and nearly doubling his 5v5 primary point total (nine to 17). Primary points are also becoming a specialty of his, as he also nearly doubled in that category, too (13 to 24).
The immediate comparison when discussing NHL readiness would be to look at fellow Swedish 2015 draftee Rasmus Andersson. Given the gap between the two’s numbers, it might be easy to say that Andersson is ready and Kylington just needs a bit more seasoning, but the devil’s in the details. Andersson and Kylington had the same primary points per game (0.39) and the same 5v5 primary points per game (0.27). If you factor in estimated 5v5 time on ice, an area where Andersson had about a two-minute advantage (16.63 vs 14.75), Kylington was better at both 5v5 points/60 (1.57 to 1.55) and 5v5 primary points/60 (1.12 vs 0.97). If Kylington had Andersson’s time on ice, we would probably be talking about him more often.
Kylington's goal that made it 3-0. His first of the year. What a snipe pic.twitter.com/MVmhdRoS7Z
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) October 15, 2017
Not sure if anyone’s heard of a fella named PK Subban, but Kylington’s production (at both AS and 5v5) as a 20-year-old is nearly identical to Subban’s 20-year-old AHL season.
Perhaps that’s hyping him a bit too much, but Kylington also had similar production at all situations to the 20-year-old versions of Tyson Barrie, Roman Josi, Marco Scandella, Brayden McNabb, and Ryan Ellis. Like Subban, Adam Larsson’s AS and 5v5 production as a 20-year-old AHLer matched Kylington’s.
If you look at the full data, you can find plenty of promising names (even going back to his 18- and 19-year-old seasons, though Kylington already stands out as few teenage defencemen actually play in the AHL). Kylington has had his ups and downs throughout his career, and perhaps hype has (fairly or not) built expectations that he just can’t live up to, but he has consistently produced like some of the best NHL defencemen did in their AHL days.
Probability is not destiny, but you really have to like the company Kylington stands among. Matching with a lot (61.54% at AS, 100% at 5v5) of NHLers who are typically strong second pairing and above players is really promising. A lot of these players made the jump from AHL to NHL by 21, which would bode well for Oliver.
BIG KYLINGTON GOAL ✅
BIG KYLINGTON CELLY ✅ pic.twitter.com/e5owhGGJyA
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) March 15, 2018
I think Kylington will come to camp and earn a job.
First off, he’s a cheap body who has made some serious leaps from year two to year three. Presuming there’s a defensive shakeup, there’s at least one spot open and there’s space for someone to win it. If Kylington can come to camp ready to make an impact, he’s an easy choice for the third pairing. He may not be an all around complete defencemen yet, but you can’t really go wrong with developing him in sheltered minutes. What else does he really have to learn in the AHL?
Kylington also presents an opportunity to capitalize on cheap contracts. He still has two years left on an ELC making less than $800,000. Playing Kylington on the third pairing also allows them to stash Juuso Valimaki in the AHL and slide his contract another year. That’s a pretty solid and cap-conscious development plan.
It’s likely down to him versus Valimaki for a defensive job alongside Andersson. Whoever wins that battle, we can all agree that the Flames are in good standing with their blueline prospects.
Josh Healey & Adam Ollas Mattsson | Mitchell Mattson | Hunter Smith | Mason McDonald | Tyler Parsons | Juuso Valimaki | Nick Schneider | Adam Ruzicka | Matthew Phillips | D’Artagnan Joly | Glenn Gawdin | Zach Fischer | Dillon Dube | Filip Sveningsson | Eetu Tuulola | Adam Fox | Linus Lindstrom | Pavel Karnaukhov & Rushan Rafikov