Way, way back in 2015, the Calgary Flames drafted several highly-touted prospects. Since then, two have become NHL regulars – blueliner Rasmus Andersson and forward Andrew Mangiapane. A third regular is on his way in the form of defenseman Oliver Kylington.
A product of Sweden, Kylington played his first pro hockey at the tender age of 16 – plying his trade with Farjestads BK, the team run by Hakan Loob. A highly touted draft prospect, Kylington bounced around a bit in 2014-15 – he played with Farjestads’ pro and junior outfits and was also loaned mid-season to AIK.
Tabbed as a first rounder by such venerable rankers as Central Scouting, Bob McKenzie and Future Considerations, Kylington slid on draft weekend – among other reasons, his bouncing around in his draft year left some scouting staffs skeptical about his body of work. The Flames traded up to grab him with the final pick of the second round, 61st overall.
Kylington elected to sign with the Flames immediately and came over as an 18-year-old to play in the American Hockey League. Arguably the first major development project for then-Stockton head coach Ryan Huska (now the blueline coach in Calgary), the likely goal was to help the smooth-skating defender shore up his two-way play.
If nothing else, his offense kept developing as he figured things out defensively:
- 2015-16: 12 points in 47 AHL games (0.255 points/game)
- 2016-17: 27 points in 60 AHL games (0.450 points/game)
- 2017-18: 35 points in 62 AHL games (0.564 points/game)
- 2018-19: 14 points in 18 AHL games (0.778 points/game)
- 2019-20: 3 points in 3 AHL games (1.000 points/game)
Kylington made his NHL debut in the final game of the 2015-16 season, six weeks shy of his 19th birthday. He didn’t return to the big leagues until midway through 2018-19, stepping in for Juuso Valimaki when he was sidelined with a high ankle sprain. While occasionally making a few defensive gaffes, Kylington’s superb skating has allowed him to often make quick recoveries.
Through 79 NHL appearances Kylington has primarily played on the third pairing, but he’s been learning and adapting to his role and growing in confidence.
“Obviously I was used a bit different in Stockton,” said Kylington of the adaptations to the NHL. “I was a defensive go-to guy there, played a lot of minutes. But for sure, I’m just trying to do what I was doing in Stockton but I’ve been trying to elevate my game a little bit on the defensive part, too, and being responsible and learning how to defend, being responsible away from the puck and with the puck.”
Kylington’s primary defensive partner in the NHL has been Andersson, a fellow Swede who was his teammate in Stockton and came up together through the Flames farm system. That familiarity has allowed the duo to gel well together and made the pairing more useful than third pairings have often been in the past.
“I think me and Rasmus are really skilled hockey players,” said Kylington. “For us, it’s been understanding to be responsible. Obviously we have good chemistry, we talk a lot out there, we’re good friends off the ice and we try to help each other so that’s been helpful, too.”
After bouncing between the AHL and NHL last season, Kylington has seemingly found a spot in Calgary. He’s spent all but 10 days on the Flames roster this season and he recently suited up for his 40th game of the season. His performances aren’t without bumps in the road, but he’s playing a minute more per game than he was a season ago and is generating scoring chances and drawing penalties with much more regularity.
“We all want to play as much as we can,” said Kylington. “I’m just trying to do my best every time I step onto the ice. I’m just trying to take every shift, every game as a new shift and a new game. I live in the present and I just try to be dialed in for every game.”
Kylington’s entry-level deal lasted five seasons because of the weird quirk of him signing as an 18-year-old. But his deal expires on July 1, leaving him a restricted free agent who will require waivers to send to the minors beginning with the 2020-21 season. (That’s probably a moot point as it seems unlikely that he’d clear waivers.)
The Flames seem set on the left side with Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin and Valimaki, but Kylington’s versatility – combined with the potential departures of right side stalwarts TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone – could open the door for a new role.
“I played right side the whole time growing up in Sweden,” said Kylington. “They put me left side here when I came over here as an 18-year-old, but I played right all my youth.”
If Kylington can return to his roots on the right side, there’s a strong chance he could cement himself into the Flames’ long-term plans.