Thursday, July 16, 2015

How Kylington Became a Flame and Now That He's Signed, What Comes Next

The Calgary Flames signed Oliver Kylington on Wednesday, inking the smooth-skating Swedish defenceman to an entry level contract.

While it was an exciting moment, the real drama unfolded three weeks ago when Calgary swooped in like a vulture and plucked Kylington with pick No. 60.

Remember, we're talking about a player considered by some to be a top 10 and maybe even a top five draft pick a year ago. As recently as January, he was the No. 1 ranked International skater on NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings.

The scene was the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida and as you'll recall, Friday night came and went without Calgary GM Brad Treliving stepping up to the podium as he had shipped the Flames first round pick to Boston earlier in the day in the Dougie Hamilton trade.

"We went back, re-arranged our board and when we broke camp Friday night after our meeting, a lot of my attempts were to expand the number of picks we had," recalled Treliving on Wednesday. "At that point, we had one second (No. 53) and our two thirds (No. 76 and 83). My idea, depending on how the draft flowed, was to get more picks."

Treliving figured that based on their ledges and where the Flames had the remaining players grouped, there wasn't a huge gap between player X and player Y so if they could accumulate more picks and still get player Y later, you trade down and do it.

However, that just wasn't working out as too many other teams were trying to do the same thing.

Enter Kylington, a Game-Changer

As the second round got started Saturday morning and names starting coming off the board, Kylington still wasn't one of them. Through 35 picks, he was still out there. Through 40 picks, still out there. Through 45 picks, still out there.

Suddenly, the game plan was about to change. Rather than trading down, now Treliving was looking for a way to move the other direction.

"We started that process as (Kylington) got into the 50s. We drew a line and said if he's here, from anywhere down, we felt there was value there and we had to try and make a deal," said Treliving.

The problem is when the currency you're offering is picks 76 and 83, you can only move up so far.

"We had to wait for that gap to get smaller where the team that you're trying to get the pick from isn't falling 25 picks back," said Treliving. "Or, you have to sweeten it and put three assets in there."

At No. 53, it was finally Calgary's turn and while they did opt for a Swedish defenceman, it was Rasmus Andersson of the Barrie Colts, who Treliving said the Flames had ranked much higher than where he went.

"Once we picked Rasmus and as this thing continued, you're making calls to teams two or three picks away just to see if it gets to them and that player is still there, would they look at doing something."

Finally, after nervously watching three Europeans go in a row from 57 through 59 -- the guys ranked 12th, 21st and 15th respectively according to NHL Central Scouting -- Treliving found a willing trade partner in his old boss Dave Maloney in Arizona. After consummating the deal, he promptly stepped up to the podium and selected Kylington, whose final ranking among international skaters was sixth.

It meant Calgary would not pick again until round five but in Treliving's eyes, it was worth it given the calibre of player they just got.

"We just felt at that point, there's a real high ceiling with this kid. There's lots of work to be done but to get that potential at that number, it made sense for us."

Why the Plummet in Value

So how and why did Calgary get a guy touted as possibly the best skating defenceman in the draft so late? The names of 19 blue-liners were called before him.

"If you asked him, he probably didn't have the year he wanted to have," said Treliving, noting that playing on three different teams last year didn't help.

It's also just the way it goes sometimes.

"Look at the rankings for the next year the day after the draft, then put them in a drawer and pull them out in June. Players' years just go different ways," said Treliving. "The evaluation process is different, (Kylington) gets hurt in that World Junior exhibition game in Ottawa and he doesn't play in the World Juniors. His year wasn't as good as he wanted but based upon where he was at the beginning of the year, he would have had to hit a grand slam to live up to the hype and expectations."

Fast forward to today and less than three weeks after nearly falling to the third round, he's already got himself a NHL deal.

"I'm excited and very happy right now. This is a great day," said Kylington, reached by phone in Marbella, Spain, where he is hanging out and training with veteran NHLer and longtime friend Johnny Oduya.

In a unique and cool situation, Oduya -- an unrestricted free agent -- also signed a contract on Wednesday, inking a two-year $7.5 million deal with the Dallas Stars.

For both deals to come together at the exact same time, it was rather bizarre. They both received their contracts via email Wednesday morning, they each signed their contracts with each other acting as the witness, then they faxed them in together.

"It was a bit special and fun," said Kylington, who said their 'celebration' was in the form of a nice lunch, an afternoon jet skiing with friends and then a nice dinner.

Where Will He Play in 2015-16?

While we won't know for sure until September and maybe even October where Kylington will play this season, what we do know is there are more choices available to him now.

"We wanted to take the lead in his development. This opens up opportunities for Oliver that without him being signed, wouldn't have been there," said Treliving.

First up is rookie camp in early September and playing in the Young Stars tournament in Penticton. Main training camp will follow that.

Should he not make the Flames and given he just turned 18 that is the most likely outcome, he does have to be offered back to AIK in Sweden's second division, which has him under contract.

However, it's not a sure thing that's where he would end up.

Treliving said the Flames have already begun discussions with AIK and I assure you they're not talking about the price of Lutfisk. Presumably the Flames will try to work out an arrangement so that they can keep Kylington in North America, either in Stockton in the AHL or with Brandon in the WHL. The Wheat Kings own his rights after recently drafting him in the CHL Import Draft (where interestingly he went 60th, same spot he was picked in the NHL draft).

"We've begun that dialogue with AIK through his representatives. We'll see where that gets to come September," said Treliving. "We hope to continue to work on that so that isn't an issue. But at the end of the day, if he ends up playing back in Sweden, that's not a bad thing either."

Enter Hakan Loob

One team it won't be is Farjestad, where former Flames great Hakan Loob is the general manager. Kylington began last season there, cycling through the junior team and then the main team before being loaned to AIK. Kylington now has a regular contract with AIK and Farjestad is out of the picture.

However, still in the picture is Loob, who knows both the player and the Flames organization, who he won a Stanley Cup with in 1989.

"I had a good time in Farjestad. I made a lot of friends. Hakan was the GM there and we had a pretty good relationship," said Kylington. "I liked him as a person and he was good to me. He was always happy and positive. It's good to have his support and it's fun to have him cheering for me."

In a recent appearance on Sportsnet960 radio in Calgary, Loob suggested coming over to North America and playing in the AHL was the best option for Kylington.

"We've talked to Hakan a lot throughout this process. he knows Oliver well and is a big fan," said Treliving. "Hakan, he's an interesting guy in that he obviously knows the Swedish game well and he played over here. When we talked to him about where our vision was, he agreed that opening up opportunities over here would be a really good thing for the player."

Easing Off the Gas

One thing I wouldn't expect with Kylington is for the Flames to rush him. He's had plenty of that already in his hockey career. Proof of that was scoring his first goal in the Swedish Elite League at age 16.

"When you're 16 and playing against men, at some point you have to let the person breathe. You like to get him around his peer group," said Treliving. "You don't want to always be over-reaching. Like you're hanging onto a cliff just to stay in a league with players that are five or 10 years older than you."

Treliving compared Kylington's career so far to a 15-year-old, who is granted exceptional player status and enters junior hockey early.

"As soon as you play ahead of your weight class, there are all these expectations placed on you," said Treliving. "You still have to let the person grow and develop and mature."

This is where off-ice considerations can become just as important as on-ice.

"When we talk about development, the first thing we always think of is strength, which is a major part of it, but we sometimes forget that socially are some of the biggest challenges with a young guy in the NHL," said Treliving. "For an hour a day at practice, everyone is doing the same thing. Then that ends and an 18-year-old worries about a lot different things than a 29-year-old with a wife and two kids. To socially mature and develop, it's an important part of the process."

Excited for the Future

Kylington looks forward to returning to Calgary in September after he had an enjoyable visit to the city last week during development camp.

"It was good. I got a good impression of everybody, they were nice to me, I felt welcomed by Calgary," said Kylington. "I enjoyed the Stampede. Never been to it or anything like it before so it was fun to see. We climbed a mountain in Banff and that was hard but it was new and it was a great view from the top. I got to see new things and it was a good experience."

Whether it's this year, next year, or a couple years down the road, Kylington looks forward to donning the Flaming 'C' and being a fixture in the Calgary line-up.

"Calgary is a great city. They have great fans and I would love to play for Calgary and win a Stanley Cup for them."

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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1 comment:

  1. Brad Treliving seems to think one step ahead, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's already had discussions with AIK to see if the two parties can work out some kind of a deal. As for Oliver Kylington, if something can be worked out with AIK and the Flames can place him on a team of their choosing, it will be interesting to see what Burke, Treliving, Conroy, Pascall and the coaching staff decide. I hadn't given it much thought, previously, but I liked Treliving's comments about the social aspects and (reading between the lines a little here) spending time with players in their own age group.