Skip to main content


Support from teammates, franchise help Kylington on journey back to the NHL

Oliver Kylington Calgary Flames Oliver Kylington - Getty Images

Standing in front of a dozen reporters on Monday at the Saddledome, Calgary Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington readily admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be back in the National Hockey League again. 

The 26-year-old blueliner had been away from the team since May of 2022 to focus on his mental health. Monday marked his first practice with the team in 20 months.

“I knew that this day was about to come, and I was looking forward to it,” he said with a reflective smile. “I tried to approach it as any other day, but it was kind of hard. Yesterday, I had a moment for myself and there was one point in time, I didn’t think I was going to be here, so it was kind of emotional but in a good way. I was excited to come here today and see everyone and share the ice with everyone and play hockey again.”

Flames general manager Craig Conroy also allowed that there was a time he thought the young blueliner’s career might be over. 

“Honestly, I don’t know if I ever would have thought I would see him back where he was at a practice or anything like that,” Conroy said Tuesday.

Conroy and the team’s joy in seeing Kylington back on the ice was palpable. The GM and his teammates were emotional when talking about seeing him in Flames colours again. 

“It’s pretty amazing to see his journey and the goods and the bads,” Conroy said. “To walk down there and see him in the [dressing] room laughing and joking around with the guys is very special. It’s hard to even put into words.”

Kylington said he felt comfort in getting back into a familiar routine he’d experienced hundreds of times as a member of the team. 

“Today felt kind of normal,” Kylington said of the 40-minute skate. “It felt like I’ve been here so many times, so I was just happy…I felt like myself again.”

Kylington’s teammates embraced him on the ice, cheering as he sniped a shot past goalie Dan Vladar. He led stretches and a Flame yelled a loud, “Welcome back!” 

“What he’s been through and what he’s gone through, it takes a lot of strength,” goaltender Jacob Markstrom said. “He’s been working hard on himself.”

Kylington mentioned his teammates several times on Monday, saying they’ve played a big role in his progress.

“Everyone’s been a part of my process,” Kylington said. “You feel the love. You’re playing with a lot of guys in this dressing room for a long time, so you build relationships, and you care for each other. You feel that for sure.”

Kylington’s journey back to the NHL has not been linear. In Sept. 2022, the Flames announced he was going to be away due do a personal issue. Kylington missed the entire 2022-23 campaign, staying home in his native Sweden.

In May of 2023, president of hockey operations Don Maloney said that Kylington seemed like he was “in a very good place” and “excited about coming back.” Kylington flew to Calgary but was ultimately unable to rejoin his teammates ahead of the season.

“We thought he’d made some great strides over [that] summer,” Conroy said. “It sounded like he was ready to come back to Calgary and get ready for training camp and that he was ready to go.”

On the day of fitness testing in September, there was a setback.

“It was a trigger, and he just couldn’t do it,” Conroy said. “He couldn’t even come inside and upstairs to do anything. So, unfortunately, we had to take a step back.”

The Flames worked with Kylington’s agents to provide him professional help. It was decided that Kylington would be away from the team but remain in Calgary.

“We had to remove him from the team because that was obviously something that was affecting him,” Conroy said. “I’ll give Oliver a ton of credit. He didn’t want to ever give up. He wanted to talk to some people. He wanted to try. We set him up with some people to talk to.”

Conroy credited Kylington’s support system. He always had a close friend or family member from Sweden to help him in Calgary. While Kylington was getting that assistance, Conroy and the Flames took a step back while continuing to be there for him.

“I didn’t want to pressure him at all,” Conroy said. “I just wanted him to work through [things] at his own pace. There was no timeline.”

Head coach Ryan Huska would text Kylington occasionally, mostly while on planes and buses on the road. It was always a simple check-in. Teammates also learned to understand when Kylington wanted to chat and when he needed space. 

“I think he went through different phases of, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you guys’ and, ‘Hey, I don’t want to talk to you guys,’” Kylington’s defence partner Chris Tanev said.

Kylington spent time with captain Mikael Backlund. Conroy also credited other teammates for their support.

“Backlund, [Elias] Lindholm, [Rasmus] Andersson, all the guys on our team, even though they weren’t doing stuff with him at the rink…they would invite him to their houses,” Conroy said. “They would be around there for him for moral support away from the rink. Nothing to do with hockey.”

Kylington said those meetups and text messages went a long way during his time away.

“They’ve been a great support system,” he said. “Everyone checking in, texting, calling, and just being there as a friend.”

In December, Kylington’s recovery had progressed to the point where a comeback was discussed. 

“We said, ‘It sounds like things are going good, but it’s been that way before,’” Conroy said. “He said, ‘No. This time I think I can do it.’”

On Jan. 4, Kylington was assigned to the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers and took part in a week of practices. Despite the Flames being on the road, Conroy stayed in Calgary to watch and beamed as Kylington took the ice. Eight days later, he was in the Wranglers’ starting lineup at the Saddledome. Fans cheered loudly as his name was announced and there were several “Welcome back Kylington” signs.

“I guess my legs still work,” he said after the game with a laugh. “[The game] was fun…I felt pretty relaxed. I trust my instincts and know what I can deliver so I just tried to trust them and have fun out there. I didn’t try to paint the picture bigger than it is.”

Conroy had also been hesitant to make Kylington available to the media before his AHL debut, but Kylington insisted he was comfortable and ready to speak publicly. 

“Let’s not do media,” Conroy remembers thinking. He felt it would add pressure and stress to Kylington during a sensitive period. “Oliver actually said, ‘No. I want to do media.’”

Now, Kylington is embracing his familiar surroundings, and his teammates are embracing him.

“We’re all just excited to see him back and loving hockey again,” Tanev said.

“The past couple of days is the most excited I’ve seen him in a while,” said Backlund.

Conroy has also learned from Kylington during this experience and will apply those lessons to support others going through mental health challenges.

“You don’t know what people are going through and what’s in their mind,” Conroy said. “Oliver would always say, ‘I’m good. Everything’s good. I’m fine. There’s no issues.’ Until there was an issue.

“For me, that [lesson] is to be supportive and maybe even when they’re telling you everything is great, you have to stay vigilant and on guys if you think something isn’t right. I think the players sometimes know more than [management] but…now, they’ve seen us help Oliver and other people feel like, ‘Okay. I can talk to them.’”

Now, Kylington’s return to the Flames lineup, unimaginable just months ago, appears imminent. 

“When [head coach Ryan Huska] feels like he’s ready to hopefully play in a game, we’ll get him back into a game,” Conroy said, before pausing.

“It’s something I was hoping [for], but never really thought was going to happen.”