To say this year's draft is deep is an understatement. We have three generational players in McDavid, Eichel, and Hanifin coming up through the pipeline. If Auston Matthews was born a few days earlier, we could've had four. Even those in the mid-first round are considered must-have players. It's a good time to be a junior hockey player.
This is also true for defencemen. For a team looking to rebuild its blueline (example: the Flames), this is the year they've been waiting for. If the NHL's Central Scouting rankings are followed, anywhere from nine to 12 defencemen could be drafted in the first round, all of them being very special.
Oliver Kylington is one of those special players, somewhat more so than others. He was essentially given the Swedish equivalent of the CHL's "exceptional player" status. Every year older he gets, he goes into a league that's way above his head and succeeds. At age 14, he was in the U18 league. 15, the U20 league. At 16, he found a regular place in Sweden's highest division of hockey, the SHL, bypassing the second-tier Allsvenskan league completely. This year, he even played in the Hockey Champion's League, a pan-European hockey competition featuring the best European teams.
Is he a good draft selection? Let's find out:
|Birthdate||May 19th, 1997|
|NHL Central Scouting rank||6 EU (1 midterm)|
|NHLe (Draft -1)||8|
Like most in this draft, Kylington is a very solid two-way player, leaning more on the offence than defence. He is a proficient puck mover, able to control play in all three zones. Scouts love to talk about his first pass, meaning his ability to break out of his own zone efficiently and effectively. If you're looking for a comparison, he has TJ Brodie-type passing skills: able to accurately throw the puck to anyone he desires from any distance.
Kylington is also a very advanced skater. Craig Button, former Flames GM and current TSN analyst, said that his "skating ability is excellent with an ease that allows him to beat the fore-check, transition from defense to offense and to jump into the offensive forays." He uses this to his advantage on defence, too. Kylington is not a physical player, but a smart one. He admittedly doesn't have the size for it, so he tries to compensate using his speed and smarts to close down scoring threats. It's a necessity on European ice, but can translate well to North America.
His biggest strength is neither technical nor physical, it's cultural. With the NHL rapidly moving towards a faster, less physical version of the game, the stay-at-home defender is slowly disappearing. Defencemen, at the bare minimum, need to skate and move the puck to stay alive in the league. Kylington is a sign of the times. His skill set is one suited to the new prototypical NHL defender. The only difference between him and current NHL defenders is that he's been doing it for years, and doing it well.
Kylington has been steps ahead of his peers for years now, but this year he took a few steps backwards. He wasn't performing at a high level with Färjestad and was loaned out to AIK in the Allsvenskan. An injury in December prevented him from playing in the World Juniors, his only chance to compete against the meat of this year's draft class, further plummeting his stock. In the TSN article I linked above, he was ranked #8. Now he isn't even projected to go in the first 14 picks.
You may have also noticed the discrepancy between Central Scouting's opinion of him and International Scouting Service's. ISS's rankings can only be accessed if you have $100 to spare, but it is quite mysterious that he suddenly dropped off of the face of the Earth in their eyes. In one of their public articles, ISS gave him a very negative review:
He quit in several defensive situations and put his team in trouble – skates the puck up the ice and loses it and take a wide turn and no signs of even try to recover? Not same player as last season or even at the start of this season.
It's very rare that scouts say such harsh things about players. ISS generally has more access to European prospects than Central Scouting does, so this viewpoint is one to consider. While it does go against everything else scouts said about Kylington, it could just be that this particular scout either didn't think too highly of him, or caught him during a bad streak. He's known as mature and confident, so this seems like an outlier rather than an actual reflection of Kylington. We can only find out.
Well the Flames do need defence, but specifically, right handed defence. Kylington is left handed, same as 10 of Calgary's defensive prospects. He is probably an upgrade on at least eight of them, but ignoring the need for a righty will only set the Flames back. Considering the wealth of defencemen in this year's draft, they could easily find a similar prospect at #15 with a right-handed shot.
The other issue is NHL-readiness. CHL defencemen usually take the full length of their junior careers and maybe one year of the AHL before they are ready to play at the top. European defencemen could take anywhere between three to five years to do so. If the question is immediacy, then the Flames can find more immediate options that will have the same career trajectory as Kylington.
If Kylington falls, which is very likely, the Flames could try and swap some late round picks to swoop him up late in the first round. He's just not the appropriate pick for #15.
Why draft him?
- One of the best puck moving defencemen in the draft
- Great skater with tons of speed
- Very smart defender
- Could be a high-value pick if he falls
- Comes fully loaded with experience against older players in a professional league
- A defender who perfectly fits in with the NHL's current direction
Why not draft him?
- Way more risk than your average defenceman
- Similar options available that would better suit the Flames
Kylington has all the makings of a good defenceman, and will probably succeed in the NHL, he's just not worth the risk at #15. If the Flames had a pick in the 20s, this article would be different. At #15, there are much better players to choose from that suit the Flames better.