With the first two picks of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames selected two players who come from similar backgrounds, who play similar styles of hockey, who play the same position and who hail from the same country.
“With the 53rd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames select defensman Rasmus Andersson.”
“With the 60th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames select defenseman Oliver Kylington.”
Just seven draft spots separated the pair of Swedish defenseman and yet with all the similarities, there were differences.
The slightly bigger, stronger and seven month older Rasmus Andersson had spent his first season in North America with his junior club, the Barrie Colts of the OHL, having put up 12 goals and 52 assists for 64 points in 67 games. His dominance as a North American rookie not all that surprising when you consider he played a total of 81 games in Sweden’s second pro division with his hometown team in Malmo, compiled 24 points and a minus-4 rating as a 16 and 17-year-old.
The slightly quicker and agile Oliver Kylington may have also shared his fellow countrymen’s experience in Sweden’s pro division as well having played 50 games in Sweden’s top pro division and 17 games in Sweden’s second pro division compiling a combined 18 points and a plus-1 rating. Unlike Andersson, Kylington had not been taken in the CHL Draft, meaning that through a loophole in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, since he was drafted by the Flames prior to being drafted by the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL selecting him just days later in the 2015 Import Draft, Kylington could potentially turn pro with the Stockton Heat should the Flames decide that path would be more optimal for his growth.
We all know what happened there.
With Andersson, he followed up his impressive rookie campaign in Barrie with another 60-point season and an even deeper run in the OHL playoffs, however he could find himself turning pro for the upcoming season.
“We were really happy with his year in Barrie,” said Flames Assistant General Manager and Heat General Manager Brad Pascall. “From the day we drafted him and our player developmental guys monitoring his progress all year, we feel he’s ready for the pro game. Last year in Penticton at the Young Stars Classic, he had a really good showing for us and kept that going throughout his season in Barrie.”
Good season? How about a point-per-game in his 15 postseason games with Barrie this season? How about his OHL First-Team All-Star nod?
Yea…he had quite the year.
“Rasmus has a very big summer ahead of him,” Pascall explained. “His big thing is that he needs to get a bit stronger and fitter as he readies to adjust to the pro game from the junior game. He’s got some big strengths to his game, including his puck movement, jumping into the play and his offensive play with the puck, especially in the offensive zone on the power play. I think Rasmus’ first year pro will be a learning experience, be it in Calgary or Stockton, but I think that he has that poise that he should be able to step in and be effective right from the get go.”
However not to be outdone or overshadowed, as an 18-year-old, Kylington stormed the gates with a great showing during developmental camp and Penticton and eventually, the decision was made that Oliver would not report to his junior club, but rather head to Stockton for the inaugural Heat season.
So how did he do? First game with his first pro shot in a 3-0 first period in favor of the Heat, Kylington put the final nail in AHL legend and all-time shutout king Michael Leighton, closing out his night and insuring that the young man at 18-years and 144 days old might forever hold the record as the youngest player to score in his pro debut for the Heat for years and years to come.
While the pro divisions in Sweden rank as some of the best hockey leagues in the world, the AHL is the top developmental league for the NHL, and seeing a teenager not only adjust to the style, speed and skill of the North American pro game, but also adjust to life as a professional in another country where family are at least 24 hours away by plane is a tough task for even the most mature of adults, but the fact that Oliver adjusted to life in the USA, that alone was very impressive.
So much so that Heat Head Coach Ryan Huska would use the words “blown away” by how Kylington’s season went and how he developed over the year. Certainly you saw the offensive sparks generated by a highly touted prospect, but you also saw a maturity and poise strengthen over time in his defensive zone.
You may have cringed every time Kylington looked to be getting hit with a crushing check as he attempted to skate out of his own zone but then all of a sudden, one sharp cut up the ice and away from the forechecking opposing forward and he was off to the races.
Oh and then there was becoming the Flames’ youngest AHL call-up to make his NHL debut on April 8th’s season finale in Minnesota.
Yea…he had a pretty good year as well.
Two Swedish defenseman. Two great seasons. Two second-round draft picks. Two similar backgrounds but slightly different paths.
Two players that will never dodge comparisons to one another.
“There are some similarities to the pair and the way they play the game offensively,” Pascall said. “They both have offensive flair, both see the ice very well and both position very well. Despite playing in different leagues, I feel they’re both on a great development path where they are going along the right steps to round out their games and become longtime members of the Calgary Flames.”
The pair, who will expect to compete for a job with the Flames after an important summer of training following a terrific year of developing on the ice don’t have to worry about their similarities, their differences, and ultimately the question that fans and media will pose for as long as the pair call Calgary home.
“Which player made the best second-round draft choice?”
However instead of comparing two players who will become teammates on the Flames, the Heat or even both clubs, perhaps right now the true question that fans and the media should pose to themselves is how these two can develop into the backbone of the Flames defense in the future.
Because Andersson and Kylington are out to prove one thing and one thing only. That they are worthy of donning that flaming C on their chest and how they plan to hoist that big, silver cup while wearing the Flames sweater.
And maybe, just maybe, the answer to that above question that we focus so much on, as to who’s better or who’s the better second-round selection; maybe there is a simple one word answer for that question.