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'THE KEY IS TO STAY HUNGRY'

Kylington earns spot on the Flames opening-night roster, eager to show he belongs

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Oliver Kylington can breathe easy. 

The decision is in. 

"I've been working hard for this opportunity for a long time now," the blueliner said, beaming in the Flames dressing room Tuesday following the announcement of the team's opening-night roster. "It's a new journey…

"…and I couldn't be more excited for it."

He made it. 

Finally. 

The second round of the 2015 draft seeming like a lifetime ago, the smooth-skating, superbly skilled rearguard couldn't hide his excitement after all these years waiting in the wings.

Nor would he want to.

For the very first time, after six years developing at the minor-pro level, Kylington is set to enjoy the intensity, panache, and pageantry of the NHL's regular-season lid-lifter.  

And there's nothin' else like it.

"I'm going to take everything in, work hard and try to be an impact player for this team," he said. "I've been up here before, but starting here from the beginning - knowing the guys better, knowing the group and feeling like you're part of the team from the start - I'm going to do everything to help the team win.

"We built something last year. But it feels different, of course, to be here from the beginning. 

"I think we've got a good group, a good core, so for a young guy like me, it's pretty easy to come in and (play) my role."

Kylington will officially begin the season in the Flames' opening-night lineup, guarding the port side of the team's third pair, with fellow countryman, sophomore Rasmus Andersson, adjacent. 

The Stockholm native earned Thursday's start in the Mile High City with a solid pre-season, beating out fellow southpaw Andrew MacDonald - who was released from his PTO earlier on Tuesday - and the right-handed Michael Stone, who will start the year as the extra on D. 

As everyone around the sport knows all too well, there's nothing permanent about residency in the National Hockey League.

 

Video: 'I was hungry. Really hungry.'

 

But what Kylington offers is a unique blend of skill, smarts and athletic ability. 

All elements coveted by both the coach and general manager.

"He seems like he's been around forever for a guy his age, right?" said Brad Treliving. "I think his game has matured, and his ability to defend has probably been the biggest growth for him.

"You look at that backend and he brings mobility, he brings puck-movement. He's stronger, more mature, so he's certainly taken a step forward."

No longer do players - defencemen, especially - have value based on a singular dimension. The game is faster than it's ever been. Decisions have to be made quickly, and supporting the puck up ice, joining the rush and keeping a tight gap are the keys to the modern way of defending. 

"He skates real well, moves the puck and defends with his feet," said head coach Bill Peters. "We like the way he plays.

"Now we've got to get him going, get him confident and simplify his game. He doesn't have to try and do too much. Just get it up into the hands of the forwards, support the rush, and when he does that, he's a really good player."

 

Video: Big personnel news

 

Consider what happened a year ago, and how far his game has come in the short time since.

Injuries on the backend prompted Kylington's recall at the end of November. He appeared in 38 games thereafter, scored three times and added five helpers, but was deployed sparingly - if at all - in the campaign's later stages when the wounded slowly returned to the fold.

It wasn't easy logging the role of a spectator in 14 of the final 16 games, along with all five playoff tilts, but he understood why. 

Playing parts of four seasons in AHL Stockton, the 22-year-old learned to be patient, step back and have trust in the bigger picture. 

Now, that perseverance is paying dividends.

"Initially, it was tough," Kylington said. "I felt that I came up and I played well, made an impact on this team, and that I could contribute to something and help the team win at the most important time of the year. 

"Obviously, when the coaches made that decision, you get upset, but you want to be a positive guy and cheer for the boys.

"I'm a team guy. 

"So, I did what I could to stay ready in case I was needed - but most importantly, to be a positive member of the team. 

"That's why I'm here now. I was hungry. Really hungry. 

"The key is to stay hungry.

"All year." 
 

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