Though Noah Hanifin is highly regarded as the best defensive prospect in the upcoming 2015 draft, seventeen year-old Oliver Kylington is close behind at no. 2.
The young Swede would be the first-ever NHL player with Eritrean roots; Eritrea is a small country on the Horn of Africa that has just over six million people.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Kylington was very good at soccer in his youth and almost played in the Gothia Cup before suffering an injury that would force him to focus more on hockey:
I was just about to shoot the ball, but pressed too hard and injured myself. After that, I made sure that I got the rest I needed to be ready for the hockey season. And to be honest, I always thought hockey was a bit more fun even though I enjoyed the football and still play with friends at times.
– Oliver Kylington
With a mother from Eritrea and a father whose main sport was handball, Kylington did not have a conventional hockey-centered upbringing; though his parents were very supportive of him growing up, no one else in the Kylington family had hockey experience, so it was all on Oliver to push himself enough to become a top-ten prospect in the 2015 NHL Draft.
An offensive defenseman with natural playmaking ability, Kylington scored 21 points (5G, 16A) in as many games for Farjestad J20 in the SuperElit league last season (he was a plus-17 as well). In two playoff games, he scored 3 goals. Moving on to Farjestad in the SHL, Kylington scored a more modest 2 goals and 4 assists in 32 games, common for players just making the leap to the big league. In fact, he became the youngest player to make his Farjestad debut and the youngest player to score a goal in all of SHL/Elitserien history. SHL action forced Kylington to focus more on his defensive game, jumping into the play a little less and taking care of his own zone a little more.
Kylington is a two-way defenseman with top-notch skating ability. Has excellent vision and playmaking skills from the backend.
Kylington has a lot of experience with international play as well. Captaining the Swedish U17 team last year, he scored a goal and an assist before playing for the U18 squad in the same season. Kylington won 8 individual awards last season, as well as the SHL SM-silver medal. His play was so exceptional that Avangard Omsk of the KHL used a third round pick in the 2014 draft so they could have his rights, should he ever choose to play in the KHL.
Now at 6’0″, 181 lbs., Kylington is in his sophomore season with Farjestad of the SHL. He has scored one goal in 12 games so far, and despite that being his lone point, Kylington is focusing much more on his all-around defensive game. While it would be ideal to score more at the pro level in the SHL, Kylington is just 17 years old playing in a man’s league as a defenseman, so expectations must be tempered a bit.
This play to set up an Oliver Kylington goal a thing of beauty (around 1:40 mark) http://t.co/IiE0NBUpXy
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) October 18, 2014
This past August, Kylington was one of the best players on the Swedish squad at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. Kylington scored 1 goal and 2 assists and was a plus-5 through 5 contests, resulting in Sweden’s fourth place standing at the end of the tournament, just missing out on a medal.
@THNMattLarkin @pr0thunder Yeah, No. 4 is up for grabs right now – Barzal, Kylington from Sweden, Zacha all options. Maybe even Strome?
— Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) October 19, 2014
Kylington knows what lies ahead for himself if he wants to remain a top-ten prospect. He knows that being all the way out in Sweden, many scouts will be making the trip to see him exclusively, whereas they can scout multiple prospects at once in North American junior games. Kylington isn’t too worried about his standing with the scouts though:
I don’t think about who might be in the stands. I feel that the way I play has gone well, so that’s what I’ll continue to focus on.