Oliver Kylington is one of Calgary’s biggest surprises in years

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Steinberg
2 years ago
I can’t remember being more floored by a player’s emergence than I have with Oliver Kylington’s this season. Kylington has been one of Calgary’s most important players through 16 games and I didn’t see it coming in any way, shape, or form. I’m wrong a lot in my line of work; it goes with the territory. But I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong than I was on this one. From no man’s land to the top four…it’s one of the great Flames stories in recent years.

What I thought

Let’s mosey on up to the table set with a full spread of words for me to chow down on. And I’ll gladly eat each and every single one. Being proven wrong is fun when it comes to hockey opinions and that’s what Kylington has done to a lot of people, likely even some inside the organization.
I didn’t think Kylington was long for the Flames for a few different reasons. He wasn’t happy with the way things were going and there had been rumoured trade requests. Kylington also voiced his frustrations on our Sportsnet 960 postgame show late last season.
Knowing that, and seeing how things had gone in Calgary, it felt like a change of scenery would be necessary for Kylington to come closer to realizing his potential. Maybe that meant a long-speculated trade. Or perhaps going back to Sweden for a season or two was the right move. But this expert prognosticator (sarcasm) felt like the ship had sailed for Kylington and the Flames.
Prior to training camp, I had Kylington nine on my defensive depth chart. Even with Mark Giordano’s departure, I had every one of Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson, Juuso Valimaki, Michael Stone, and Connor Mackey ahead of him. But it became evident early in camp and the preseason this was a different Kylington and he was going to make things difficult on Calgary.
And here we are.

What we know

Kylington has been a straight up revelation. After playing a bit role as a seventh d-man in the opener, Kylington’s season began for real on night three in Detroit. He’s been on Chris Tanev’s left side ever since and the Flames have been a better team as a result. Kylington’s underlying metrics at five-on-five are bonkers through 15 games. Courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Let’s put Kylington’s outputs further into perspective. He ranks third in possession, second in expected goals, and has Calgary’s best ratio of high danger chances. Amongst defencemen, Kylington is number one across the board. And, crucially, he’s not being sheltered: zone starts are close to even and Kylington is playing strong competition every shift.
Kylington’s all-around game is translating to strong counting numbers, too. He leads all Flames d-men with 11 points through the team’s first 16 games. More impressively, though, those 11 points have come in Kylington’s last 11 games. He may not be a point-per-game defenceman the rest of the year, but Kylington’s skating and offensive instincts make him a real factor in Calgary’s attack.
Most of us have always recognized Kylington’s raw ability. Despite being in the midst of typing this mea culpa, I’ve always believed Kylington had a high ceiling. I just wasn’t as confident he was going to reach it. So what has allowed everything to come together?
Most importantly, Kylington has matured as a hockey player and as a person. Kylington joined the Flames organization as an 18-year-old and started playing with AHL Stockton a few months later. He’s 24 now. I can’t begin to tell you how much more mature I was in my mid-20’s compared to my late teens. You can accelerate that for Kylington, who began playing full-time with men at the age of 16.
Kylington came to camp with the right mindset. He didn’t know what opportunities would present themselves, but was in the right mental space to capitalize if/when they materialized. Kylington’s offseason was productive, too: he signed a contract early and threw himself into his training program. It paid dividends and Kylington set the tone early as one of Calgary’s top veterans in fitness testing.
Crucially, there was a an opportunity to be seized. Giordano’s absence left a void on the left side of the blueline and the Flames needed someone to elevate. Zadorov struggled in camp and in his first two regular season games. Valimaki wasn’t ready. Cue Kylington.
Finally, the importance of playing with Tanev can’t be overstated. We’ve talked about it with Quinn Hughes and Noah Hanifin in the past. It’s not a coincidence. Tanev makes players around him better and a big part of that is comfort level. Because he’s so reliable and rock-solid defensively, Tanev allows young, talented partners to flourish. And, in fairness, it’s pretty clear Kylington has made Tanev better, too…just check out his results playing with Zadorov.
To those who DID see this coming from Kylington, well done good on you. Due to numerous factors, I was not one of those people. Watching this guy play, though, has made being proven wrong as fun as ever. What a story.


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