Though he made his National Hockey League debut nearly three years ago, it was the 2018-19 season that served as Oliver Kylington’s coming out party in the NHL. Though plenty of question marks remain (as it tends to be with young player), Kylington continued his trend of taking a step forward every year, establishing himself at the very least as a serviceable NHL option.
2018-19 season summary
Kylington began the season in the American Hockey League with the Stockton Heat, and continued doing what he had the prior three seasons: upping his offensive output. Kylington’s 14 points in 18 games were good for a 0.78 points-per-game average, up from 0.56 the year before. He has improved his PPG average every season in the AHL since debuting in 2015-16. Then, due to injuries to Michael Stone and Juuso Valimaki, he earned a call up to the Calgary Flames.
|Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||TOI/GP||5v5 CF%||5v5 CF REL%||OZS%||PDO|
Kylington didn’t put up the same point totals, averaging 0.21 PPG, which anecdotally, is right in line with his offensive output as an AHL rookie. That rate slightly trailed Rasmus Andersson’s 0.24 and bested Juuso Valimaki’s 0.125. He also showed off his offensive instincts on a number of occasions, capitalizing on a few gorgeous opportunities that remind you why he was considered one of the most exciting offensive defenceman prospects to come out of Sweden since Erik Karlsson. Scoring is not, however, atop the responsibility list for defenceman in the NHL, and what has been a common knock on Kylington for as long as he’s been scouted: his defence.
Kylington’s defensive shortcomings became apparent at different junctions during his tenure with the team, in the forms of brain farts here or there. A missed assignment, a bad pinch, an oopsie-dasies giveaway. These blips on the radar of his game have been the calling card of his deficiencies since he was a 16 year old in the SHL. He doesn’t necessarily tend to have bad games, or bad stretches, but rather just one-off bad plays sprinkled in between his good ones. The problem is when they do happen, they have a tendency to be rather egregious and immediately put his team in a tough spot. These misplays used to happen far more often, especially the products of trying to do too much with the puck, and Kylington has seen great progress in reigning them in over the course of his development in Stockton. His defensive positioning and decision making remain a work in progress, especially at the NHL level, reflected in his advanced stats that lagged behind his teammates.
Despite one of the lower relative Corsi ratings on the team, Kylington saw a favourable PDO over his time with the Flames which no doubt benefited both the general perception of his play, as well as his ability to continue getting better as an extension of his confidence. Young players don’t tend to fare well when the sky is falling early in their careers.
Though he didn’t play a ton, averaging less than both Andersson (16:02) and Valimaki (15:29) in TOI per game, Kylington played largely unsheltered minutes. His offensive zone start percentage is similar to his neutral and defensive zone starts, suggesting Bill Peters was comfortable playing Kylington wherever. Just not for too long.
Even in those modest minutes, without barely any power play time, the traits that have made Kylington such an exciting prospect for so long, still managed to shine through: his speed and skill.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 9, 2018
— Sportsnet 960 (@Sportsnet960) January 23, 2019
— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) December 9, 2018
And that is why I’ve been pumping Kylington’s tires for going on five years. He can be damn exciting.
Unfortunately, after blocking a shot against the New York Islanders in February, Kylington was sidelined for most of the regular season and didn’t see any action in the playoffs.
Compared to last season
As previously mentioned, Kylington has maintained a nice trend of season over season improvement. Both in his quantitative statistics, but also in more qualitative areas, such as his defence. Ryan Huska, current Flames assistant coach and Kylington’s head coach in Stockton during most of his time there, often complimented the work Kylington put into getting better in his own zone and the strides he made as a result.
After getting a taste of the NHL in 2016, Kylington didn’t return for two full years. He began his fourth AHL campaign last fall and the expectation was becoming that he should make the jump to the NHL soon if he were to maintain his top prospect billing. Injuries brought him up, but he stayed on his own merit. There’s no doubt we saw a better Oliver Kylington in 2018-19 than we did in 2017/18.
What about next season?
It’s up to Kylington to keep doing what he’s been doing, and continue the improvements year-to-year. Though he made the jump to the NHL and didn’t look out of place, he didn’t necessarily prove himself to be a full-time NHLer just yet.
He was shaky at times in his own zone and still has room to grow strength wise. The Flames have approximately 136 defenceman under contract next season [editor’s note: not quite…], so nobody will be handing Kylington a spot on the NHL club. He’ll likely be battling Juuso Valimaki for the third left side spot in training camp, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility he begins the season in Stockton again. If that’s the case, the expectation is he’d be the top dog on the Heat blueline. There’s nothing wrong with padding your confidence by dominating lesser competition. Injuries are inevitable and short of Kylington himself getting hurt, there’s a more than likely probability we see him in Flames threads again next season.
Does he establish himself as an NHL regular? That would be the logical next step in Kylington’s development, and if he’s proven anything during his time in the Flames system, it’s that he’s pretty good at taking it.
2018-19 player evaluations
#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan | #11 Mikael Backlund | #13 Johnny Gaudreau | #18 James Neal | #19 Matthew Tkachuk | #21 Garnet Hathaway | #23 Sean Monahan | #24 Travis Hamonic | #27 Austin Czarnik | #28 Elias Lindholm | #33 David Rittich | #41 Mike Smith | #55 Noah Hanifin