For every step forward Oliver Kylington’s development has taken since being drafted 60th overall in 2015 draft, his public perception seems to have taken one backwards.
That’s not to say Kylington, who retains his fifth overall slot in FlamesNations’ Top 20 prospect rankings for the third consecutive year, is disliked or perceived poorly by fans and critics alike, but rather that he’s underrated in most circles. Juuso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson dominate the discussion around who should push for a spot on the big team come September and who in the system could turn into impact players – as they should – but fact is, Kylington belongs in that discussion, too.
Each of his three AHL seasons have seen continued improvement in areas not limited to offence, his most advertised skill. The biggest knock on Kylington, a once projected top five draft pick, was his defence. Specifically, his hockey sense in the defensive zone. All accounts are that he’s improved his defence to the point of knocking on the NHL door, and his elite level skating and offensive instincts remain. So, why aren’t we talking about Oliver Kylington?
How did we get here?
As mentioned above, 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 and his fall from grace has since been well documented.
Kylington already had 67 professional games under his belt when he pulled the Flames sweater over his head, and jumped straight to the AHL. His first season was one of adjustments and growth, playing 47 games and earning 12 points, with a cup of coffee in the NHL to finish the season. His sophomore year came with increased expectations, and Kylington met them, bumping 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.
He needed an even bigger step in year three, and he did just that solidifying himself on the second pairing in Stockton, further increasing his point totals to 35 points in 62 games (0.56 PPG). For those keeping score at home, his goals have linearly increased, too: five goals in year one, six in year two and seven this past year. 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 blue line in particular. The question with Kylington has never been can he create plays and move the puck, it’s can he stop plays and disrupt the puck.
At season’s end, as a U21 defenceman, he’d already amassed 169 AHL games.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
As previously mentioned, Kylington set AHL career highs in goals and point outputs for the third consecutive year, and was Stockton’s second highest scoring blueliner behind Andersson in points per game.
For a deeper dive into Kylington’s numbers, revisit Christian Tiberi’s writeup on him here.
Those in the know
The newly minted head coach of the Stockton Heat, Cail MacLean, has had plenty of firsthand experience witnessing Kylington’s development as an assistant coach in Stockton last season, and was complimentary in his assessment of the young Swede.
I think [his defensive play] came along very nicely last year. I think he did a really good job of bringing defensive game to the opponent, bringing nice tight gaps and utilizing his biggest strength, which is his skating… Now he’s becoming a mature pro, he’s no longer a young pro – you can say that maybe on paper but the bottom line is he’s been around now – and I think that one real positive for Oliver is he can start to operate in an environment where he’s not playing up above his head in terms of maturity and age and everything, and I think you’ll see the result in that with Oliver is he can relax a little bit and let his game come to him rather than try to force it. He’s got great passing ability. He’s a very good shooter. Obviously his skating is exceptional. I really feel like Oliver is poised to make big strides this year because I think it’s time to fulfill that role of being one of the mature players, which I’m sure he’s excited for.
Our very own Stockton Heat correspondent, Stockton’s Finest, has also witnessed Kylington’s development up close the past two years and was, well, less complimentary in his analysis.
I have provided some past posts regarding Kylington that have not been kind. Since first watching him in 2015-16 season, it appears he has not improved, or has not improved as much as someone who has three full years of experience. His offensive numbers may look impressive (7-28-35), but he was a minus-12. His defensive play still needs to be refined.
It should also be noted that Corey Pronman of The Athletic ranked Kylington as the Flames’ number one prospect, and was exceedingly complimentary in his analysis of him.
On the horizon
It would be unfair to characterize any player’s 21-year-old season as “make or break”, but in Kylington’s case, he’s approaching that point. In his fourth full season in the AHL, the expectation is that Kylington will not only assume the role of Stockton’s best defenceman with Andersson’s presumed departure, but also contend for the title of the AHL’s best defenceman. Truly elite prospects tend to dominate the minor pro levels at this age, and Kylington will need to do so to retain his top prospect designation.
Having said all that, I remain confident Kylington can continue to trend upwards and fill the requirements of expectations again this season, if only because that’s all he’s ever done in his young career. Opportunity remains scarce on the Flames’ NHL roster, but I’d expect he makes a big impression in training camp, and follows it up with his finest AHL campaign to date.
And hopefully, regains some of the respect he’s seemed to have lost over the past three years.
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