The phrase “the truth is out there” can be applied to a multitude of topics. 90’s sci-fi nerds, like myself, will usually preface it as a tagline from the X-Files. However, this can also be used to describe the talent pool in the NHL.
Wyatt Kalynuk is the truth.
It’s easy to get lost in the plethora of names that make up the Blackhawks’ prospect pool. Some players come and go in the blink of an eye, while others become NHL mainstays. Focusing in on the Hawks defense, the names fans have been hearing the most over the last few years include Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell and Niclas Beaudin.
So, who is this Wyatt Kalynuk guy?
Kalynuk is a left-handed defenseman who was a seventh round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017. The thing is, Kalynuk never signed with the Flyers. It’s been implied that the multitude of left-handed defenseman that the Flyers already had in their system would make it difficult for Kalynuk to make their roster anytime soon. This is a possible reason why the Blackhawks were able to sign Kalynuk to an entry-level contract in July 2020.
The Blackhawks WILL be signing Wisconsin defenseman (and former Flyers draft pick) Wyatt Kalynuk to an entry-level deal, per two league sources. One college source said the swift-skating Kalynuk reminded him "a bit of Nick Leddy."— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) July 6, 2020
Story: https://t.co/bWyXJ5JV7w pic.twitter.com/GWkP5YKmgO
The 24-year-old defenseman is somewhat of a late bloomer. His first draft eligible year was 2014, however he struggled that season, accumulating only 15 assists in 55 games as a member of the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. Kalynuk’s offensive numbers would only slightly improve over the following seasons as he tallied 24 and 31 points in ‘15-16 and ‘16-17 respectively, this time as a member of the Bloomington Thunder.
Then came a shift. After being drafted by Philadelphia, Kalynuk decided to spend the next three seasons playing as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA. Over the course of his college career, Kalynuk finished with 78 points in 110 games. While Wisconsin was a struggling team, Kalynuk proved to flourish as a star in his own right and would end up captaining the Badgers in his final season.
Wisconsin ties it up as Cole Caufield continues to display those soft hands. This time it's on the pretty drop pass to Wyatt Kalynuk and he roofs one to make it a 3-3 game. #Badgers #GoHabsGo #FlyOrDie #NTDP pic.twitter.com/91fcLemCGE— Stars n’ Stripes Hockey (@StarsStripesHKY) November 17, 2019
What does this have to do with the Blackhawks?
Young players who end up becoming highly touted defensive prospects are usually fairly dominate in their late teens and will be scouted heavily heading into their draft eligible year. So with Kalynuk being a late bloomer, his path to the NHL took a bit longer. However, because his development in college was more than sufficient, Kalynuk needed to sign with a team where he was able to crack the lineup in order to show what he had to offer sooner rather than later.
While other young defenseman have their ups and downs while adjusting to NHL play over the course of the season, Kalynuk was able to jump into the Hawks lineup and seemed to brush off any growing pains relatively fast.
It’s not really his stat line that’s impressive but how he achieved those numbers.
Kalynuk’s skill set lends itself to the style of play in which the Blackhawks seemed to have fallen into under coach Jeremy Colliton.
The ‘21 Blackhawks’ offense found much of its success on the rush. Kalynuk, while not the fastest skater on the ice, is quick to his spots as he displays the awareness of James Howlett and the vision of Scott Summers. He was able to complete some incredible passes heading in the offensive zone and while also showing that he can pinch in deep to help create shooting lanes and high danger scoring chances. Paired with an accurate shot, this led to Kalynuk finishing the season with 4 goals and 5 assists in 21 games.
His offensive prowess was not Kalynuk’s only skill set that showed promise. No. 48 in red showed his ability to block shots, create takeaways and rather than leaving his assignment to chase hits, he was able to use his body to knock his man off the puck. He also showed that he is able to skate his way out of trouble (which is a lifeline in the Blackhawks’ hybrid man-to-man system).
While the tape speaks volumes, Kalynuk’s metrics suffered from a system where he does not have a true stay-at-home partner. His 47.84 shots-for percentage (CF%) is not terrible, but with him getting 61.19 percent of his starts in the offensive zone, you’d like to see that CF% get above 50. With a true stay-at-home partner, Kalynuk would likely be able to be able to play his aggressive offensive style, without the worry of no one being in position to back check.
While the sample size is small, Kalynuk showed that he has the skill set to be molded into a very good defensive player. While he may not be a top pairing guy, it’s easy for me to see him in a long term, important second pairing role. Nik Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are just two examples of how important that role is to a team’s success. The key for Kalynuk’s long term success is that he is developed properly.
Where does Kalynuk slot in going forward?
The bottom line is that, in a small sample size, Wyatt Kalynuk was impressive and showed potential to be a key player for Chicago. It’s not that he is dominant or overpowering, but that he has the skill set to play in a fast, talented NHL. The way the league has shifted over the years, responsible blue liners who can skate well and get to their spots are like gold.
This is the guy I want to see on the ice when the Hawks are taking a face-off late in the third period, in a close game when fans are on their feet and the United Center PA is pumping in Of Wolf and Man (you know I miss it).
Yes, 48 is a wonky number but if Kalynuk can continue to play the way he did in 2021 and improve going forward, I’ll be ordering a jersey with his number on the back soon enough.