Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
‘I just felt like myself again’: After nearly 20 months away, Oliver Kylington is back with the Calgary Flames
By Ryan Pike1 month ago
On Monday, blueliner Oliver Kylington hit the ice with the Calgary Flames for the first time since late May 2022 – a gap of over 600 days. Based on video clips and accounts from colleagues at the rink, it didn’t look like nearly that much time had passed, as Kylington returned from an extended mental health hiatus looking pretty much as onlookers remembered him: fast, poised and talented.
Kylington returned from a conditioning stint with the American Hockey League’s Calgary Wranglers, where he played twice, and was permitted by the league to start practising with the Flames on Monday in the latest step of his return-to-play plan.
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“I knew that this day was about to come, so I was looking forward to it and just tried to really approach it like any other day,” said Kylington. “But it was kind of hard. Yesterday I had a moment for myself and, there was one point at time I didn’t think I was going to be here, it was kind of emotional but in a good way. I was excited to come here today and see everyone and, like I said, just share the ice with everyone and play hockey again.”
Originally a highly-touted draft prospect, the Flames traded up at the 2015 NHL Draft from the third round into the late second round to snag him at 60th overall. Kylington signed his entry-level deal immediately and bet on himself, moving to the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat as an 18-year-old to learn the North American game.
Flames head coach Ryan Huska was the head coach in Stockton when Kylington arrived. He characterized Kylington’s game initially as “all run and gun” and commended Kylington for how he developed his game.
“He became a checker, if you want to call it that, here at the NHL level because of his foot speed. So we used him with Chris [Tanev] when he was playing again if you remember, and he did a good job against top lines because he’s got the skating ability that allows him to close really quickly. So he takes away time and space and he’s a hard player to play against because of how quick he is.”
After spending time on the Flames’ roster throughout parts of three seasons (2018-19 through 2020-21) but not quite carving out a defined role for himself, Kylington blossomed in 2021-22 alongside Tanev and formed a really useful, dynamic shutdown pairing. Their ability to get the puck back from opposition lines contributed offensively, too, with Kylington registering 31 points in 73 games that season.
However, Kylington stayed in Sweden for the entire 2022-23 season as he dealt with mental health challenges. Things progressed for him well enough for him to feel comfortable coming to Calgary in preparation for training camp, but right as camp opened he felt like he wasn’t quite ready to participate yet.
“He felt, as he was coming back this year, that ‘hey, I feel like I’m at that place,'” said Huska. “But when he got back here, he realized that he wasn’t. So then it was a plan that was set up again by our medical team, and they did a wonderful job of working with him and giving him what he needed at certain times.”
For the time-being, Kylington remains on the club’s long-term injury reserve list and doesn’t count against their active roster, but his status will be revisited by the club and the league going forward.
Huska noted that no timeline exists for Kylington returning to game action, and there will be dialogue with the player regarding his progression.
“That communication back and forth,” said Huska. “But we have to feel like he’s ready to help our team as well, so that’s something. He works towards becoming a coach’s decision and that’s what he’s doing with this next step by getting back into practice with us.”
Kylington’s had a long journey back to the NHL. He’s not quite set for a return to game action yet, but Monday represented a big milestone and a testament to the work he’s done away from the rink to get to where he wants to be health-wise.
“I felt like today felt kind of normal,” said Kylington. “Like, it just felt like I’ve been here so many times. I was just happy and I got a lot of energy out of it. I just felt like myself again. So it was just fun to, like I said, share the ice and be out there and compete. It was fun.”
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