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Kylington talks about his return to the NHL, mental health, and his future in Calgary

Oliver Kylington Calgary Flames Oliver Kylington - Getty Images

After a breakout 2021-22 campaign where he amassed 31 points, Calgary Flames blueliner Oliver Kylington took a leave of absence from the team in September of 2022 to focus on his mental health back home in Sweden. 

Kylington would ultimately miss all of the 2022-23 campaign before returning to Calgary ahead of this season. He experienced a setback in his recovery but remained in the city to work with healthcare professionals. After a conditioning stint in the AHL, he returned to the Flames lineup in January. In six games back, he’s played on the third pairing and displayed his trademark skating and puck-moving ability. 

Kylington spoke with TSN’s Salim Valji about his return to the NHL, mental health, and his future with the organization as he heads towards unrestricted free agency.


TSN: It’s been a few games. How have you felt in your start to the season?

Kylington: “I feel good. I feel pretty good. I know that there’s more of me to show, but besides that I feel really good.”

TSN: What’s been the biggest adjustment for you coming back?

Kylington: “Physically, I feel fine. That hasn’t been a big adjustment for me, I feel like. It’s just been back to getting to day-to-day life and getting used to [the routines]. I feel that transition has come very natural to me, and I feel the guys have helped a lot and made me feel at home quickly. It’s been good. It’s been very easy to come back.”

TSN: Was there a moment where you felt like you were back?

Kylington: “Not really. I felt it very strongly my first [game]. I felt [the support] looking around. That touched me a lot. I was very thankful and grateful for that, but not really any ‘aha’ moment. I know what I can do out there and I think I’ve shown it. When it comes to playing hockey, it’s never been a confidence issue for me.”

TSN: How great an opportunity was this recent road trip to get to know the guys?

Kylington: “It was good. There’s a lot of old faces for me and new faces as well. The newer faces have been great too, and [we’ve] created a good bond. It’s just nice to see new faces and get to know them. Overall, my return has felt very good. I know there’s progressions to be made, but I feel like I’m taking those steps that I want to take, and I feel like I’m in a good space.”

TSN: What would those next steps be?

Kylington: “Just in a competitive way. I know I can be better, and I know I’m doing a good job right now, but I think just my competitive brain that kicks in where when I’m playing, I know that I can be better all the time. I’m not feeling any type of pressure at all. I just know I’m playing good right now, and just want to progress and play better and be the [defenceman] I can be.” 

TSN: Going back to your absence, are you able to shed light on what you experienced being away from the sport?

Kylington: “There were different parts in my process of what I was going through. I’m just thankful for my team and for the whole organization for them supporting the journey I was on. I obviously had a lot of difficulties and challenges that I had to face, but everyone was so supportive and let me go down my path and face it. I just felt great support from everyone.”

TSN: What was a typical day like for you during that stretch?

Kylington: “Very different every day. It’s hard to put into words how I was feeling every day. I feel like when it’s non-hockey related, you don’t think about hockey as much. You’re dealing with stuff that’s very family-related, and I had to go down a different path in order to look at life in general. Hockey wasn’t a priority right there and then. Obviously, you were confused because you’re not used to what was going on, but I just tried to surround myself with good people. I had a really good support system with friends and family. Obviously, that helped a lot with their guidance and stuff like that.” 

TSN: Do you learn anything about yourself or about life when you go through something like that?

Kylington: “I think you have to. Whatever that might be, I think you really have to confront and face the reality of it. I think by doing that, there will be tough times and there will be days where you’re not feeling like you’re at your best, but looking back a little bit now, it strengthened me a lot, I think. I got to see different sides of myself and got to understand just life in general and how it works. I’m very humbled and grateful for that.”

TSN: It seems like mental health is more openly talked about in hockey than before. Have you noticed that?

Kylington: For sure. We all are humans. We all have different difficulties in our lives. I think it’s important not to forget about that because I think that our emotions are what make us tick. So, I think coming from a masculine type of environment, it’s important to talk feelings and become more educated. …So, it’s just understanding [how] to be okay with sharing stuff and not feel like someone won’t understand you and what you’re going through.” 

TSN: Lastly, there’s been a lot of talk of the future of players on this team (Kylington is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer). Do you see yourself with the Flames heading forward?

Kylington: “I’m happy here. I think everyone knows that. I’ve been with this organization for a long time, and I’ve created great relationships with people. I think everyone knows what I like about here and the city and stuff like that. We’ll see what happens.”