Oliver Kylington returned to hockey in 2023-24 and looked really good (especially given the circumstances)

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
What a difference a season can make! When the 2023-24 season began, it was unclear what the future held for Oliver Kylington – or even if he’d play pro hockey again. With the season now completed, the only question is where Kylington’s ceiling could end up being at the NHL level.

The past

A product of Stockholm, Sweden, Kylington worked his way up through junior hockey in several organizations during his youth. Before his draft year was complete, Kylington had made stops with Djurgårdens IF (2011-12), Södertälje SK (2012-13), Färjestad BK (2013-15) and AIK (2014-15). He also represented the Swedish national team at the Under-18 Worlds, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and participated in the team’s World Junior camp.
Kylington’s draft stock slid a bit during his draft year, in part due to how much he bounced around, and he was selected by the Flames in the second round, 60th overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft. He signed his entry-level deal immediately and moved to North America to learn how to play on the smaller ice with the Stockton Heat.
Kylington had a reputation as a great skater and somebody with strong offensive instincts. He was less developed in the defensive zone – early on he was a bit of an adventure in his own zone – but he gradually figured it out. He became a pretty strong AHL defender and began pushing for NHL call-ups.
He found his way on the NHL roster for a couple seasons, but kept getting pushed to the sidelines late in the season as management brought in more established – and lower risk – blueliners to work the third pairing in the playoffs.
He finally broke through in 2021-22. Playing alongside Chris Tanev – as reliable a two-way defender as there is in the NHL – the tentativeness in Kylington’s game that led to mistakes disappeared, replaced with a swagger that led to a heck of a lot of good offensive opportunities for the club. He had nine goals, 22 assists and 31 points over 73 games. He entered the season with 16 career points; he nearly doubled those figures in one season.
Following the season, Kylington signed a two year contract as a restricted free agent… and then didn’t play a game of pro hockey for the better part of two seasons, as he stepped away from the game to tend to his mental health challenges.

The present

Kylington travelled to Calgary prior to training camp – a positive development after staying in Sweden for the previous season – but he didn’t quite feel ready to rejoin the team fully. He kept working with the Flames staff and began skating with the club’s injured players in December. He progressed enough that he joined the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers for a conditioning stint in January, followed by him joining the Flames as a full practice participant.
He made his return to the NHL on Jan. 25 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Overall, Kylington suited up for 33 NHL games – plus two in the AHL – and had three goals, five assists and eight points. It’s hard to really judge his overall game because his return was soon followed by the Flames trading an entire shutdown defensive pair – Tanev and Noah Hanifin – and the club essentially moving into audition mode. But in less-than-ideal circumstances – having not played an NHL game in 20 months and playing on a depleted team – Kylington looked pretty comfortable on the ice.

The future

Kylington’s on an expiring contract. He’ll turn 27 on May 19 and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. However, based on the comments from Flames general manager Craig Conroy and Kylington at the end-of-season media conferences, it seems like there’s mutual interest to hammer out a new contract in Calgary for the defender.
Kylington missed 20 months during what’s usually the prime of a player’s career. He’s played 201 NHL games and has 55 points. But even with that time missed, he stays up really well among the 2015 draftees.
  • Among blueliners taken in the first two rounds, he has more points than Jakub Zboril (16 points in 76 games), Noah Juulsen (17 points in 122 games), Jacob Larsson (24 points in 172 games), Gabriel Carlsson (18 points in 81 games), Jeremy Roy (0 points in 0 games), Nicolas Meloche (8 points in 57 games), Matthew Spencer (0 points in 0 games), Brendan Guhle (14 points in 65 games) and Jeremy Lauzon (44 points in 288 games).
  • He compares quite well on a points-per-game basis as well to Travis Dermott (62 points in 312 games) and Jonas Siegenthaler (57 points in 312 games).
At the very least, he’s proven that he’s a competent NHL defender. Speaking during exit interviews, Kylington indicated he thinks he has more to show at the NHL. Time will tell if he can keep developing and become something even greater than what we’ve seen so far.

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