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Oliver Kylington nominated for Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by Calgary PHWA chapter

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
It hasn’t been the easiest season for the Calgary Flames. However, one unabashedly positive development has been the return of defenceman Oliver Kylington after nearly 20 months away from professional hockey to tend to his mental health.
As selected by the Calgary chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, Kylington has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
Selected annually by the full membership of the PHWA (from a pool of nominees chosen by the 32 local chapters), the Masterton Trophy is given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The award is named after the late Bill Masterton, who passed away in 1968 following injuries sustained in a game while playing for the Minnesota North Stars.
Kylington’s journey to the NHL itself is utterly fascinating and pretty improbable. A product of Stockholm, Sweden, he’s the son of a Swedish father and an Eritrean mother, who nearly bled to death after being shot fleeing the war-torn country before finding her way to Sweden to join family there.
Like many Swedish kids, Kylington began playing hockey when he was young and excelled. He made his professional debut in the top-level Swedish Hockey League in 2013-14 (as a 16-year-old) and became one of the top prospects in his age group. He bounced around a bit during his draft year – playing major junior, top-tier pro, second-tier pro, and spending time with Sweden’s under-18 and under-20 national teams – and slid down the draft rankings as a result. For reference, Future Considerations had him ranked 29th overall.
At the 2015 NHL Draft, the Flames traded up – sending a pair of third-round selections to the Arizona Coyotes – to select Kylington at 60th overall. The feeling among the team’s management and scouting group was that Kylington was good enough at the things he was good at – skating and creating offence – that he could overcome and improve what he wasn’t great at yet – defending. Kylington signed with the club as an 18-year-old and became one of Ryan Huska’s projects with the Stockton Heat.
By 2018-19, Kylington began making appearances in NHL games and auditioning for a larger role. After a couple stop-and-start opportunities in the NHL, he broke through as an NHL regular in 2021-22 alongside Chris Tanev and posted 31 points over 73 games in his first full NHL season. He signed a two-year contract extension with the Flames and seemed primed to build on his breakthrough season.
And then he didn’t play another professional game for nearly two years.
On the opening day of training camp prior to the 2022-23 season, Flames general manager Brad Treliving disclosed that Oliver Kylington was away from the club. Treliving declined to provide much details, aside from emphasizing that Kylington’s absence wasn’t related to substance abuse.
In an interview with Swedish journalist Henrik Sjöberg for HockeyNews-SE in August 2023, Kylington disclosed that he was suffering from “mental and psychological problems” which led to his time away from hockey as he stayed in Sweden to deal with those challenges.
“I think I deal with the problem like maybe everyone else does, by just sweeping it under the rug and putting the lid on but for me it led to mental illness and I felt very bad about how I dealt with my problems and almost went into the wall and felt that now it’s enough,” Kylington continued. “I needed to face these problems we had as a family and today I am incredibly grateful for this journey I started and then had to finish.”
Kylington felt well enough to travel to Calgary prior to 2023-24’s training camp, but he wasn’t quite ready to participate in on-ice activities.
“He felt, as he was coming back this year, that ‘hey, I feel like I’m at that place,'” said Huska in January 2024. “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.”
He remained in town, though, and worked his way back gradually. He began skating with the team’s injured players in December. He joined the Wranglers on a conditioning stint in January, playing twice with the Wranglers, then was activated from the long-term injury reserve and began practising with the NHL group. And on Jan. 25, 2024, roughly 20 months since his previous NHL appearance, he made his return to the Flames lineup against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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Kylington admitted, speaking to media when he began practising with the team that “there was one point in time I didn’t think I was going to be here.”
Despite missing 20 months, Kylington doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat on the ice. He’s returned to a prominent place on the Flames blueline, and considering he’s still only played one full NHL season – 2021-22 – we still might not yet know how good he can be at hockey’s highest level.
When he caught up with several local media members after Monday’s skate at Winsport, Kylington noted he tried to train himself not to see expectations and focused on himself as he prepared for his return to pro hockey.
“I wasn’t actually looking into media or what people were saying in the background,” said Kylington. “I just wanted to control what I could control, and for me at that time it was going out there and having fun and I think everything just transcends normally. I just think I just try to be as connected with myself as possible. I haven’t felt pressure or anything from the outside.”
Since returning, Kylington’s been met by a wave of support from Flames fans, but he’s also received a lot of positive messages on the ice – stick taps and “good to see you back” comments – from opponents, a mixture of former teammates and those he has no prior connections with.
Right now, he’s in a good place and enjoying being back around the game.
“I feel just appreciative of hanging out with people I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Kylington. “I’m just spending time competing with old teammates and new teammates, just being back to an environment that I’ve been away from for a long time. I’m just appreciative of life, really, in general. I’ve been happy so far.”
Two Flames players have been honoured with the Masterton Trophy in the club’s history: Lanny McDonald in 1982-83 and Gary Roberts in 1995-96. Captain Mikael Backlund was the club’s nominee last season.
While in the past it was more heavily stigmatized, society is becoming more and more aware of the importance of mental health. Kylington had the fortitude to seek help for his challenges, find the proper tools to manage his health, and then managed to work his way back to the NHL, showing courage and determination along the way. For everything he’s accomplished this season, Kylington is this year’s Calgary chapter nominee for the Masterton Trophy.
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