Skip to main content

 

LIGHTS OUT

By George Johnson - CalgaryFlames.com

The general manager of Färjestad BK at the time, an icon of yesteryear around these parts, was - he'll admit - initially gobsmacked.

"You get struck by lightning, so to speak," recalls Hakan Loob, thinking back to Oliver Kylington's arrival in Karlstad, to Löfbergs Arena, back in the 2013-2014 Swedish Hockey League season.

"You see the guy, his poise, his skating ability, and your first question is: 'How old did you say he is again?'

"The level of his play tells you he's this old and his birth certificate, his passport, tells you no, he's a lot younger than that."

At 16, a mere moppet, Kylington broke into the SHL, a prodigy of sorts, playing against men for the most storied franchise in the land.

"I shouldn't say you're that surprised because every now and then these guys do show up," says Loob, a key cog in the Flames' 1989 Stanley Cup title victory and now on board as the club's head European pro scout. "But with the skating ability I mentioned, his mobility, and then he scores a goal to become one of the youngest guys ever to do that in the Swedish league, well …

"The media jumped all over that here. He was getting all kinds of attention.

"It was fascinating but as a GM you have be a little careful, kinda slow things down a little, make sure it's not too much, too soon. You can't rush things. They have to happen in a good way."

Five years on, a 21-year-old Kylington continues to push for full-time employment at the Scotiabank Saddledome as one of the club's most intriguing defensive prospects.

To date, he's got one big-league game on his resume, April 9, 2016 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul versus the Minnesota Wild, aged 18.

"Obviously I've felt ready to play at the NHL level for about a year now," says Kylington.

"In my head, in my hockey, I'm so much more mature now. I wasn't ready for the NHL then, at the time of that game. I got the opportunity, it was great and I did my best with it.

"But now I'm just more complete. My hockey IQ is higher."

 

Over the Stockton Heat's opening 15 AHL fixtures, he's been absolutely lights-out, tied for the team scoring lead alongside centre Tyler Graovac with 13 points.

With fellow Swede Rasmus Andersson graduated to the third pairing in Calgary this season and Finland's Juuso Valimaki making the leap from junior directly into the top flight, minutes and responsibility in Stockton have fallen Kylington's way.

"He's our go-to defenceman right now," says Cail MacLean, in his first season as head coach of the Heat. "He's playing in all situations. We're relying on him to help produce offence, which he's done a great job of, but we're also counting on he and his partner, Adam Ollas Mattsson, to play against the top lines.

"Oliver has done a nice job of maturing into this role where we're counting on him and he's stepping up.

"He's able to carry the load.

"Being in North American now for a few years, while he's still young he's matured in that he understands the game and is able to carry a lot of ice time and be sure he's efficient with the plays he makes.

"He's going to make mistakes from time to time but he has the luxury of knowing that when he does, we're coming back to him.

"That is important in Oliver's position. It gives him the ability to play more freely, to relax, and it shows."

That trust and the expanded role was music to Kylington's ears.

"He told me early in the year that he wants me to be the go-to guy," he says. "That's what I want, too.

"I don't want to let my teammates or my coaches or myself down. I want big responsibility. I want to be a difference-maker."

 

The attacking gifts that made a decorated old hand like Loob - an Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Championship winner well as a Stanley Cup champion - execute a double-take watching a gifted 16-year-old five years ago are being augmented by the foundations required to play the position at the highest level.

Substance added to the style, as it were.

"Oliver's finding a way to contribute offensively and still build his defensive game," praises MacLean. "We know he skates so well and can create because of that but we're all looking for him to develop that reliability, consistency, away from the puck, especially in the defensive zone.

"And one of the best parts of the story: He's doing that.

"I see him on the path (to the NHL). Most importantly, Oliver knows that he's starting on a path to making himself into a long-term player there.

"His attitude is not 'Hey, I need to just get my foot in the door'. He doesn't want to be a short-term guy. He's building the habits to give himself longevity at that level.

"His skating, obviously, and his ability with the puck are going to get him there.

"It's the habits he's building away from the puck that are going to keep him there."

 

Patience is always difficult, especially in the young, and most particularly for one who generated such attention at such an early age.

"Timing,'' notes Loob, "is the key word.

"One of the hard things about being fairly mature in the game early is that you think you're so far ahead that maybe when you don't get the chances right away frustration can set in.

"It usually comes down to a patience versus frustration. It's kind of like a ping-pong game. Back and forth. Back and forth.

"It's always hard to break into the NHL as a defenceman, especially one that's hyped as an offensive, powerplay-type guy. Expectations are a little bit higher."

Given the stellar opening to his fourth pro season, Kylington has established himself as that next-in-line candidate for a Calgary call-up.

The organization is proving that it's willing to introduce young talent into the fold on merit.

"I don't see chances others get as setbacks for me," stresses Kylington. "I'm happy for the guys who've gotten the opportunity to be there. They're great guys and good hockey players.

"You start thinking about things that way and it just messes with your head.

"I think the adversity of being sent down helps me play better here; play more p--ed off, if you can say that. But in the right way. Not in a negative way. I love the organization. Playing (that way), I just play with more edge, to try and help this team win.

"I've been learning so much in the years that I've played here, adding elements to my game.

"You just try and become a more and more complete player, trusting that it'll get you to where you want to be.

"I'm not going to let myself down because I know I'm going to play in the NHL."

VIEW MORE FLAMES EXTRA ARTICLES

Check out more of our in-depth, long reads on your team, published every Saturday or Sunday during the season.