While the Flames have recently put their forward lines into the proverbial “blender,” their defensive pairings have been relatively consistent. With the exception of Rasmus Andersson and TJ Brodie occasionally flip flopping, the pairings have been pretty much the same.
The only thing that really changes is whether Michael Stone or Oliver Kylington plays as the sixth defensemen. As players, they could not be more opposite. Kylington is 22 years old, one of the best skaters on the team, and is in the process of rounding out the rest of his game. Stone is 29, and not the best skater, though he does have a good shot from the point that he uses effectively.
Their traditional stats are similar. Each has three points on the year, and they have similar penalty minutes and plus minus. But how similar are these players? Who should be playing? The traditional stats are where the similarities end. Looking into the analytics, it has not been close between these two players.
Kylington is best in terms of possession. His 52.19% CF% is the 8th highest on the team. Where he struggles is turning this possession time into positive results for the club, as his expected goals for and goals against per 60 minutes are both right near the bottom of the team.
This is supported by the eye test, as Kylington can be a turnover machine in his own end. In the offensive end, he can be frustrating due to his lack of a reliable shot, and his inability to create high danger chances in the zone. Because he doesn’t have the big shot, he too often settles for weak writers from the point that are very low danger and inefficient shots. When he does skate with the puck he too often circles the outside of the zone and then settles for dumping the puck into the corner or again throwing a weak writer at the net. His skating ability is impressive, and it frequently bails him out of tough positions, but his offensive skills and decision making are holding him back. For Kylington to really take the next step, he needs to find a way to create more high danger offensive chances to offset the chances he gives up. Obviously there needs to be progression defensively as well, but a guy who skates as well as Kylington does needs to produce more offence for the club.
Statistically speaking, Stone has been an absolute disaster this season. His CF% is the worst on the team, he is second worst in xGF/60, worst in xGA/60, and worst in xGF%. By almost any metric other than actual GF and GA, Stone has been the worst Flame this season. That indicates that he has benefitted from some good luck to start the year, and his actual numbers should be worse. Unlike Kylington, Stone does provide some value on the Penalty Kill, but with a healthy Travis Hamonic back in the lineup the Flames do not have a glaring need for Penalty Killers, and the unit has been fantastic all season, regardless of whether Stone has been in or not.
Obviously you cant expect a superstar in your seventh defensemen, especially considering Stone’s modest cap hit ($700k for the season). He does provide some intangibles like blocking shots, but the Flames are getting absolutely smoked when he is on the ice. While there is an argument that you can’t expect much more from a seventh defensemen, what is worrisome is why Stone has been playing so much recently. He was forced into everyday action while Travis Hamonic was injured, but was outplayed in that time by Brandon Davidson, who has since returned to Stockton. With Hamonic back, there is no reason for Stone to be playing regularly, and should likely be relegated back to spot duty. Kylington has been better across the board in nearly every category, is younger and has more potential, and is considered by many to be a part of the Flames core for years to come. He needs to start developing faster, no doubt, but he should be getting more ice time than he is currently.
Of course, both players might be place holders for the eventual return of Just Valimaki, who injured his ACL in an offseason training incident. Valimaki has been really solid for Calgary in his injury laden career so far, and has to figure into Calgary’s top six going forward. The only question is what Kylington’s role will be going forward. Stone will be gone after this season, but Kylington could be a part of the defensive core of the club for years to come. Getting him more reps and seeing some more positive development will be key as the Flames make decisions for the future.