‘He felt good’: Kylington joins Flames’ farm team for practice, another important step

While there remains no timeline for Kylington’s return to the Flames’ lineup, this is certainly a significant development

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Oliver Kylington, in a statement released shortly before he hit the ice for practice with the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers, called it “another step forward.”

Flames general manager Craig Conroy, after watching the 26-year-old defenceman in drills with the farm team, agreed it was “another huge step.”

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Up until Thursday morning, Kylington had not participated in a full team session for 19-plus months. He missed all of the 2022-23 season and the first three months of this current campaign for personal reasons. He has been open about needing to focus on his mental health.

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“To have him out there and to see the smile on his face and just for him to be excited about coming to the rink, it’s a big positive,” Conroy said. “You know, we’re going to take this thing slowly and see how he does. But I think it’s another huge step for him.”

While there remains no timeline for Kylington’s return to the Flames’ lineup, this is certainly a significant development.

The Swedish blue-liner has officially been assigned to the Wranglers on a conditioning stint, although he is not expected to suit up for a two-game weekend set against the Henderson Silver Knights.

“I feel I’m in a good place with my mental health and ready to take another step forward,” Kylington said in a statement. “Returning to Calgary has been the right decision. I’ve felt tremendous commitment from Flames ownership, management and my teammates, and I am appreciative of the support and resources made available to me.

“I also thank my family, friends and the fans for their encouragement. I’m looking forward to getting on the ice in a team environment and back to my everyday life. I have missed it very much.”

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The C of Red has been rooting for Kylington, who hasn’t appeared in an NHL game since May 2022.

In fact, Thursday’s news was cheered throughout the hockey world.

That was definitely true in Nashville, where his Flames teammates were preparing for a matchup with the Predators.

They were disappointed for their pal when Kylington returned to Calgary but ultimately wasn’t ready to participate in training camp in the fall. They have been thrilled to see him around the rink over the past month or so, since he resumed skating with two injured teammates and a development coach.

As Flames alternate captain Rasmus Andersson told reporters at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville: “We couldn’t be more excited and happier for him as a team and just the person … It’s been a long road back for him.”

“We are so happy that he has made positive progression with his mental well-being, and we will continue to support Oliver through this process,” Conroy echoed. “Based on his feedback, and that of health professionals, we have developed a return-to-play plan for Oliver. This conditioning assignment to the Wranglers for full practice integration is the next step in that process. Oliver will continue with his treatment, and we will monitor as he moves forward.”

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Conroy, who isn’t travelling with the Flames on this current road-trip, was one of several hockey-ops staffers watching from a suite at the Saddledome as the Wranglers put in their work Thursday.

There were glimpses of the skill set that made Kylington one of the NHL’s best breakout stories in 2021-22, when he scored nine goals, added 22 assists and solidified himself in a top-four role. There were some signs of rust too, as you would expect.

When it was Kylington’s turn in a shootout drill, a few reporters raised their iPhones to shoot video.

At one end, he sizzled a glove-side shot past practice fill-in Riley Sims, who tends twine for the Mount Royal University Cougars.

At the opposite end, he was denied as he tried to fool the AHL’s reigning MVP, Dustin Wolf, with a deke to his backhand.

As he turned back towards centre, he was smiling wide.

“He felt good. He said it was exciting to be back with the group of guys,” Conroy told Postmedia after a post-practice chat with Kylington. “He said, ‘My hands aren’t quite there yet.’ But overall, conditioning-wise, he feels good and he’s excited to be back with the guys, which was all positive.”

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Indeed, this is nothing but good news.

“It’s a huge step for him and us,” agreed Flames head coach Ryan Huska after morning skate in Nashville. “He has done a really good job of working on himself, and I think our organization has done a great job of providing him with all the tools necessary to try to help him get back. So this is the next step for him.

“He’s going to get an opportunity to get into some team practices and we’re fully expecting that is going to go well for him, that’s our hope and belief, and we’ll continue to progress as we move along. But this is a positive step for him, for sure.”

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