Second City Hockey’s 2021-22 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2021. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.
Over the last decade, the Blackhawks ability to draft and develop defensemen has been nothing short of a question mark, a problem staring the team in the face without an apparent solution. While several major players have been acquired via trade — such as Seth Jones, who’s now expected to carry the weight of the newly re-tooled Hawks blueline — the sneaky signing of Wyatt Kalynuk last summer could be Chicago’s key to consistency.
Kalynuk, who’s considered a “late bloomer” by NHL standards, enjoyed a strong showing while playing with the USHL’s Blooming Thunder, scoring 24 and 31 points in his 2015-16 and ‘16-17 seasons, respectively. After moving on to college, Kalynuk played three seasons for the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA, ultimately serving as team captain and accumulating 78 points in 110 games. Kalynuk was drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. He never signed, though, seemingly because of the amount of left-handed defenseman taking up roster spots ahead of him. This allowed the Hawks to move in and sign him to an entry-level contract in July 2020.
What was it that Chicago scouts saw in Kalynuk which led to his signing?
To start, Kalynuk’s on-ice awareness shined in the 21 games he played for the Hawks in 2021. In the NHL, being in the right place at the right time is a lot harder than it sounds, especially when playing in any sort of man-to-man situation. Kalynuk stayed positionally sound on defense while helping move the puck through all three zones. He sends and receives crisp passes thanks to his quality stickwork, which helped him tally four goals and five assists in his short rookie campaign. At 6-1 and 174 pounds, Kalynuk is not the biggest defenseman on the roster, but he’s a good skater who is just fast enough to skate his way out of trouble.
When looking at Kalynuk’s underlying numbers, it’s important to apply context — especially the reality that he’s only played 21 NHL games for a team that was rather poor overall in the defensive zone. His 36.09 percent share of expected goals (xGF%) and 43.67 percent share of shot attempts (CF%) may not be much to write home about. However, on a better defensive team and while playing in a bottom-four role, Kalynuk’s skill set is more than enough to make his ice time count. Given a consistent partner and time to develop chemistry, Kalynuk will be a more than capable contributor for the Blackhawks blueline.
There are a lot of questions that the Blackhawks need to answer heading into the ‘21-22 NHL season, most notably whether or not they’re going to be a playoff team. How that question is answered by next April will heavily depend on what their blue line looks like. Kalynuk may not ever become a top-pairing defender, but he is the kind of quality depth chart a team needs among their blue-liners in order to reach the postseason.