Oliver Kylington is one of the most interesting draft stories of the year, and quite possibly one of the toughest players for teams to project in the first round. In 2013-14, he played with Farjestad in the SHL – only the second defensemen in league history to play full time in the SHL at that age. The last defensemen to do so was Calle Johansson, a 17 year NHL veteran who played mainly with the Washington Capitals.
While it looked like Kylington would be a slam dunk top 10 pick, and potentially top 5 if he continued on the trajectory he appeared to be on, his 2014-15 season raised a ton of questions, and many scouts project he could slip out of the first round entirely.
After the jump, I’ll try to tackle one of the biggest questions of the 2015 draft: “What is Oliver Kylington?”
- Age: 17.36 years old at start of season. Born May 19, 1997
- Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
- Frame: 6’0, 181 lbs
- Position: D
- Draft Year Team: Farjestad (SHL)
- Accomplishments: 2014 J20 SM Silver Medal, 2014 SuperElit Most Points by U17 Junior, 2014 SM Silver Medal, 2014 U20 Super Challenge Best Defensemen (also most goals, assists, and points), 2015 Allsvenskan Most Points by a U18 Junior
|PCS% 2014||PCS Pts/82 2014||PCS% 2015||PCS Pts/82 2015|
*Note: finding comparables to Kylington’s 16-year old season is nearly impossible. No one has ever been as young as he is and produced at his level in Swedish professional hockey. His only close 2014 comparable is from his time in the SuperElit, and is Erik Karlsson.
|PCS Most NHL GP||PCS Highest Pts/GP|
|Roman Hamrlik||Erik Karlsson|
|Teppo Numminen||Tomas Jonsson|
|Tomas Jonsson||Teppo Numminen|
- PCS = Our Player Cohort Success model. Click here for more information about PCS.
Arguably one of the very best skaters in the draft, Oliver dances on his blades with equally high-end speed, quickness and agility and makes it look incredibly effortless. His confidence seemed to falter at times and affect his productivity but a turnaround in this could eventually see him, being one of the draft’s best defencemen.
A smart two-way defenseman, who has tremendous feeling for the game and reads the plays well. Oliver Kylington is only average sized, but lets you forget the missing inches with his hockey sense, his strong vision and remarkable skating abilities. Owns a good shot from the blue-line and combined with this very good puck- and passing-skills, he can guide a power-play and the team’s offensive game to success.
Exceptionally poised, mature, two-way defenseman…handles the puck well and likes to join the rush…plays with impressive confidence and is absolutely fearless with the puck on his stick…doesn’t possess a bomb of a shot, but knows how to put the puck on target…quite impressive top speed and acceleration, especially in offensive situations…not overly big and has some defensive positioning issues to sort out…minute-munching ability as this kid just has ice water flowing through his veins.
From Anthony Mauro, DraftbuzzHockey.com:
OLIVER KYLINGTON is a widely misunderstood prospect expected to evolve into the next big Swedish star and has disappointed severely. If you look at his profile without bias, you see a mixed picture showing turbulent movement having played in 3 leagues this year and been loaned out to AIK. The truth behind it is he unraveled with Farjestad – SHL in the fall where he became so erratic, no one cared about his points, his PT dropped, and then he was jettisoned in a nice way. All the scouting misconceptions: smart, two way, and dominant offensively. What he is is a high-end skater who can strike offensively in rapid situations where he doesn’t need to think. If given time, the kid will implode and is very unstable with the puck. In addition to the countless miscues he’s bound to make, players have outright stolen the puck off of his stick as he was busy drifting off to La-La land. Kylington is overrated and doesn’t have a defensive bone in his body, making him a potential faller (and some fan base’s huge draft day steal).
And thoughts from TSN’s Bob McKenzie:
No one’s stock fell further faster this year than Kylington. Top 10 in pre-season, 24 on TSN final list. Some scouts believe he’s strong…
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 5, 2015
…candidate to fall out of the 1st round. Some scouts rank him well down, 60+. Terrific skater but they don’t feel he put it together.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 5, 2015
Clearly, the curious case of Oliver Kylington was going to take more digging. Given how rare it is for a defensemen like Kylington to play in the SHL at his age, and produce offensively at the rate he did, there were really only a handful of comparable peers for him in both his 16 and 17 year-old years. As a result, his PCS numbers should be evaluated with a fair degree of caution.
Given that both the scouting opinions and quantitative analysis was inconclusive, I decide to reach out to three sources very close to the SHL, including league insiders, all of whom wished to remain anonymous:
I think a lot of the negativity that’s been surrounding Kylington this year has been blown out of proportion. He’s still a good player and a great NHL prospect with elite tools. His skating and puck handling ability is up there with the best of them, and he’s been doing things at the senior level already, very rare.
Much of the negativity these last few months have been about him not trending in the right direction, and while that’s a fair point to make – he was awesome last spring – he started at such a high point coming into this draft year that he’d have to be a top-4 d-man, putting up points in the SHL, for it to be an improvement, and it’s very rare for any European team with ambitions to put that kind of expectation on a 17-year-old’s shoulders. Färjestad struggled early and with Kylington’s ice-time being very irregular and rarely anything more than a lower-pairing D, Kylington asked to be loaned elsewhere to get a regular shift, he got it with AIK of the second-tier pro league in Sweden, and was one of the league’s best d-men during his stint there, playing tons of minutes. Had he spent the entire year there and not having all this back-and-forth (finished the year out back with Färjestad playing mostly with their junior team), I don’t think the dent in his draft status would’ve been as prominent.
A lot of the non-hockey question marks may have been troublesome to Swedish teams, but should factor in little-to-nothing. He’s got a reputation of being a bit pushy when it comes to promotion to the next level (U16->J18->J20->senior team system in Sweden) and ice-time, and rumours have been swirling about agents and family have been putting some pressure on clubs to do one thing or the other, things that rarely are as big of a problem at the NHL level with a more stable contract situation and fewer possibilites to move at all. He’s not a lazy player, he’s not in bad shape, and he gets along well with teammates and coaches.
Despite not taking the next step, he’s had a pretty good year performance-wise, had it not been for the lofty expectations. Big role in Allsvenskan, some SHL games, selected to the WJC as an underager.. Had the bar not been set as high as it was there’d be more hype around Kylington. His skating is top class, puck handling ability as well, he’s as elite as they come when it comes to moving the puck out of his zone. His game has matured a lot over the last 1.5 seasons, fewer end-to-end rushes and carries the puck a little less, plays a simpler game albeit still one where he likes to join the rush and push forward. His defensive game is not NHL level and has it kinks, but improving steadily and is not a weakness as much as it’s overshadowed by elite skating and puck skills.
There’s not much that would make me think he’s not a top-half of the first-round talent, and if he slips further down as some project, I think we’ll look back at his draft slot in a few years wondering how he could’ve fallen so far.
My view is that it begins with unfair expectations with him. I’ve heard some expected him to go in and be a top 4 defender in the SHL. for example. And people then easier get the notion that he’s had a poor season the whole year. Which I don’t agree with at all. I think it’s fair to say that he’s had an up & down season. I think he started the year really well with Färjestad and should’ve got more icetime. When he didn’t get much of TOI he decided that it was best for him to be loaned to Allsvenskan and AIK, and he started off really well there too. Then injuries hit him around December. He had a nagging leg injury that was hurting him. So after the WJC exhibition games against Canada & USA where he played really poor. He thought it was best for him to leave the team and rehabilitate, so the injury wasn’t going to get worse. And then after he came back to play with AIK they were really struggling as a team and the whole team were in chaos. Not sure if he was 100% healthy either, but he had mixed performances as well. Then somehow the team AIK (I think) decided they didn’t want him there anymore. And during that spring he also had two poor internatinal tournaments where he performed poor according to the scouts. So he went back to Färjestads junior team and played out the rest of the season. Where I thought he played OK. And in all of this people started to question his game, hockey IQ, Defense etc.
I saw what he did in the SHL, so 17 games, as well as 2-3 games with AIK in SWE2. He’s not great in his own zone at traditional eye test defense – positioning, clearing the crease and so on. But his ability to transition the puck and his NZ/OZ skill more than makes up for it. So IMO what ‘those people’ say is just another example of the disconnect between people analyzing attributes but having zero clue how to gauge impact. While he’s not great in his own zone, I dont think he’s awful either. I’d be more worried about the ‘attitude issues’ and stuff w/ his ‘crazy parents’, and I imagine that’s pretty common for draft prospects. As far as his ranking dropping, I think it’s just lazy reporting.
Piecing all of this together, we start to see some common trends emerge:
- One of the best skaters in the draft,
- Couldn’t exceed the unrealistic expectations set for him after a virtually unprecedented 16 year-old season in the SHL,
- Technical skill set in the defensive zone needs work,
- Excellent puck handler who can drive the power play,
- Skill set enabling him to move the puck through the neutral zone is excellent,
- Performance in WJC exhibition games was poor, and likely a huge factor in the drop in his stock, especially for those who have not scouted him extensively in Europe, and,
- Draft stock is being affected by factors outside of his ability to produce on the ice.
The fact that Kylington looked like a generational talent last season seems to have unfairly impacted the general perception of him this year. He’s still the highest scoring U-18 prospect coming out of the SHL in 2015, and owns two of the top-10 most prolific seasons by a U-18 defender in SHL history on a per-game basis. What he’s done in the past 24 months, even given his ups and downs and injuries, is remarkably impressive.
Kylington projects as a dynamic, puck-moving offensive defenseman at the NHL level. Based on what he’s accomplished already at such a young age, the sky is still the limit for what he could become.