During the shortened 2020-21 NHL season, Oliver Kylington spent more time in the press box than anyone else on the Calgary Flames. He was the odd man out most nights on a crowded blue line and only got into eight of 56 games. However, this season, he has surpassed last year’s games played in just three weeks while adding seven points along the way.
Calgary’s offseason mainly was overshadowed by the fact that Mark Giordano was taken by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. General manager Brad Treliving traded for Nikita Zadorov and signed Erik Gudbranson and Micheal Stone to shore up the defense. It seemed once again that Kylington might be the odd man out, but after a strong showing in the preseason and 10 regular-season games, the Flames should keep him in their top four moving forward.
Kylington Passes the Eye Test
Kylington was drafted 60th overall by Calgary back in 2015. At the mid-season point of 2014-15, he was ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting as the number one European skater. It was his lack of defensive ability in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) plus an unfortunate injury that kept him out of the world juniors that he fell to 60 at the draft. Since his NHL debut, he’s always felt like he was one of those prospects that needed the right opportunity to make his mark in the NHL and that opportunity has come.
Kylington has been oozing with speed and skill ever since he was a 17-year-old in the SHL and now playing in Calgary’s top four, which is on full display. His ability to skate the puck up the ice and stickhandle around opponents is the best of any Flames blueliners. His ability to jump into the play is as good as any elite defenseman in the NHL and was on display when he tied the game against the Nashville Predators.
Six years since being drafted, and Kylington has figured out his defensive game and has been good in his own end before joining those rushes. He’s not afraid to use his body as he’s dished out seven hits and blocked 12 shots in 10 games. He is quick on pucks in his own zone and can make a great first pass or create the zone exit himself with his skating ability. So far, he has been a treat to watch for many Flames fans who are now starting to question just what kind of player he can become in the NHL.
The Numbers Back up Kylington’s Play
Not only does Kylington look like a difference-maker for Calgary, but his underlying numbers also back it up. Among the eight defensemen who have suited up for Calgary, he ranks first in Corsi for (CF%, 58.46%), expected goals for (xGF%, 61.00%), and high-danger chances for (HDCF%, 67.39). Paired with Chris Tanev, who was arguably the Flames’ best defenseman last season, the duo has become the team’s best pairing in terms of CF% (60.9) and xGF% (69.0).
Compared to the rest of the NHL, Kylington is also one of the top defenders. His 58.46 CF% is ranked sixth in the league and his 61.00 xGF% is 11th among defenders who’ve played more than 50 minutes. Courtesy of Money Puck, he and Tanev are ranked fifth in the NHL in xGF% and third in CF%. Of those defense pairings ahead of them, none have played more minutes than Calgary’s second pair.
Kylington’s play has also rewarded him on the score sheet as he has one goal and seven points through his first 10 games of the season, nine games if you don’t count the season opener where he only played three minutes. He is now tied for the team lead in scoring by a defenseman and currently is ranked 29th in the league among blueliners. When you look at his rate of points per 60 minutes (P/60) he is averaging 2.63 P/60, which ranks him fifth in the NHL among defensemen. Both the eye test and the numbers certainly back up the fact that he belongs in Calgary’s top four.
Calgary’s Top Four is Now Set
After a great preseason, many fans were confused to see Kylington as the seventh defenseman, then scratched through the season’s first two games. But since coming in for Zadorov on the left side, Kylington has been nothing less than exceptional for Calgary. He’s contributed on offense while making sure to take care of his own end beforehand.
Barring a significant trade, the Flames’ top four should be set for the season. Things are going well with the current pairs of Noah Hanifin with Rasmus Andersson and Kylington with Tanev. Kylington adds a unique brand of speed and skill to the backend that has fans excited and wanting more every game. He’s solidified his spot as a regular in the lineup and is quickly becoming one of Calgary’s best defensemen.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.