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'SEIZE EVERY OPPORTUNITY'

Kylington shining in preseason with exceptional play at both ends of the ice

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

The numbers are telling. 

Impressive. 

Awfully convincing. 

Oliver Kylington has done everything possible. He's reached out and seized the opportunity in front of him, and has no plans of letting up.

The 'eye test' confirms it. 

"Coming into this year, on the mental side of it, it was really important for me to focus on the things that I can control, and to make the best of the situation that I have in my hands," avowed Kylington, who's coming off another monster night on the blueline, logging more than 19 minutes and leading all Flames blueliners with a 57.14% Corsi in Wednesday's Battle of Alberta.

"I didn't put any type of pressure on myself - at least, not any more, or any differently than I have in the past. I know what I have to do, and that I have to apply that every time I step on the ice. 

"I try to reset after every game, take it day by day, and give my best to the team.

"That's all I can do." 

So far, the 24-year-old has been a statistical beast. In three of Kylington's five preseason games tracked by NaturalStatTrick, the Swede leads all defencemen with a 70.83% share of the 5-on-5 scoring chances (34-14), while sitting middle of the pack in offensive zone starts. That's no small task.

Plus, with a 63.51% share of the even-strength shot attempts, he's less than one percentage point back of the pack leader, Chris Tanev, for the team lead in that category, too. 

Defensively, Kylington is tops in the class (outside of Michael Stone or Noah Hanifin, due to sample size), in expected goals against, or xGA, at 0.78. This calculation is based on the quality and quantity of shots taken while a player is on the ice.

In other words, the Flames have been 'expected' to play near spotless hockey when No. 58 is out there.

"He was 18 when he played in the minors with us for the first time," said Assistant Coach Ryan Huska, who looks after the Flames' D corps and met Kylington when he was the bench boss with the club's AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, in 2015. "He was not very good defensively, I can say that.

"But it's nice to see him now, where he's comfortable and confident in his own zone. Maybe, I should say that we're ALL comfortable and confident with him in his own zone, which probably goes a long way in regards to his confidence level, too. 

"He's made some huge strides in how he defends and he's starting to now put the whole game together. He's able to use his speed and still get involved offensively, but he's not put himself in situations that are going to cause our team some problems.

"He's done a good job with that."

 

 

Certainly, the data backs that up. But stats are only part of the story. 

What the numbers don't tell you is how well he's handled the puck, distributed it, or made plays under pressure - while at the same time, showing great flair on the offensive side of the action with a slick mix of ingenuity and touch.

It is, as Huska describes it, one his greatest assets, and a big reason why he was one of the most highly touted defencemen in the 2015 draft.  

"My instinct is always to make a play and with experience, you learn when to do it and when not to do it," Kylington said. "I feel I've gained that experience over the past few years, and I obviously want to work on the details to try and elevate my game even further, as much as I can. 

"When the opportunity is there, obviously you want to make plays and generate some chances for the team. So far, I'd say it's gone pretty well."

One play in particular stands out from his impeccable showing in the Alberta capital. 

Kylington showed great poise at the blueline, holding onto the biscuit for that extra half second before side-stepping a pair of defenders, taking the puck into the middle and whistling a shot on goal. 

That, after ringing the puck off the crossbar, with the game in the balance late in the third period.

Simply put, he's making things happen out there. 

"Right now, I really feel like I'm able to play to my strengths, my abilities, and the game that's made be successful," said Kylington, who's relishing the added responsibility in all facets, including the powerplay. "Obviously, it's nice to get that push from the coaches, to be given that chance, and I really think it's helped elevate my game even further.

"I'm trying to seize every opportunity I get.

"I'm not sure how all the pairings will end up, but for me, I'm trying to communicate with my partner - whoever that is - and help elevate our game to a standard that we both expect."

"That's not only good for us, but good for the team, as well."

Kylington appeared in only eight games last year, recording one assist while averaging a shade more than 13 minutes per game in ice time. 

It was a tough season.

But at the same time, it's easy to forget how young he is. With fewer than 100 games of NHL experience under his belt, and another full campaign ahead of him before his 25th birthday, we have to remember that players develop at different rates. 

Now, he could be ready to break out.

"I really do think that he's keeping his game simpler," Huska said. "He's maybe matured to the point where he realizes, 'I don't have to create something every shift.' By being solid and using his speed, it's going to give him a chance to play and help the team win. 

"I think he's come in with a really good attitude this year and he's really focused on his task at hand, which is to make our Top 6."

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