Wyatt Kalynuk was a pleasant surprise for the Blackhawks this season. The 6-foot-1, 189-pound left-handed shot defenseman emerged as a reliable rookie on coach Jeremy Colliton’s blue line, pushing other, higher profile prospects aside as he earned minutes.
The 24-year-old defenseman was originally a 7th round pick (#196 overall) by the Flyers in the 2017 NHL Draft but, after three years at the University of Wisconsin, he opted to sign with the Blackhawks. When he signed with the Hawks in July of last year, where and how he fit into the Hawks’ rotation was unclear; at that time, Brent Seabrook was injured and the club still had Olli Maatta under contract.
At Wisconsin, Kalynuk was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention Team in his first season. In his sophomore season, Kalynuk was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team on defense and he won the Spike Carlson/Chris Chelios Most Valuable Player after finishing second on the team with nine goals. He was the Badgers’ captain as a junior, earning first team All-Big Ten, Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and Academic All-Big Ten honors.
“He was our go-to offensive defenseman,” Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato told NBC Sports Philadelphia before Kalynuk signed with the Hawks instead of the Flyers. “He got the most minutes on the power play; he was the guy we wanted the puck to go through. He’s an elite offensive defenseman that has the ability to run a power play. We asked a lot of him.”
Kalynuk signed a two-year, entry-level contract that runs through the 2021-22 season with a $925,000 cap hit. Between signing and him joining the club for the 2021 season, Maatta was traded away and Seabrook ultimately had to call it a career, opening the door for him to get a crack at the NHL lineup.
And he grabbed the bull by the horns. Kalynuk averaged 16:16 with four goals and five assists in 21 games with the Blackhawks this past season. He averaged 1:06 per game on the power play, which ranked fourth among Blackhawks defensemen behind Adam Boqvist, Duncan Keith and Nicolas Beaudin.
Kalynuk’s best partner on the blue line was Riley Stillman. However, he only spent 19:01 5-on-5 minutes on the ice with Stillman this season – making the numbers good but from a small sample size. When those two were together, the CF% was 55.56 – the best of any defensive pair that spent at least 15 minutes together for Chicago this season. Their FF% was 57.50, also the best of any pair that spent 15 minutes together on the ice.
Here are Kalynuk’s top four 5-on-5 minutes TOI partners (defensemen) from the 2021 season:
- Duncan Keith: 85:13
- Calvin de Haan: 64:43
- Connor Murphy: 50:07
- Nikita Zadorov: 44:46
How did Kalynuk impact those four defensemen’s performance?
CF% with Kalynuk – 41.48
CF% w/out Kalynuk – 46.67
CF% with Kalynuk – 49.53
CF% w/out Kalynuk – 62.50
CF% with Kalynuk – 42.70
CF% w/out Kalynuk – 45.61
CF% with Kalynuk – 36.47
CF% w/out Kalynuk – 40.42
The Blackhawks blue line for 2021-22 will still be crowded. Seabrook is retired but that doesn’t change the reality that Boqvist, Beaudin, Ian Mitchell and Alec Regula will all be fighting for ice time with Kalynuk. Stillman appears to be in the mix moving forward as well; he signed a three-year contract extension on April 25. And Chicago still has veterans Keith, de Haan and Murphy signed and is negotiating an extension with Zadorov.
With how crowded the group is, Chicago will hope one of their veterans is taken by Seattle in the expansion draft and there may be others considered if/when trades are discussed as well.
However, we saw strides from Kalynuk that he appears to be a player the Blackhawks can have making an impact on the blue line in the coming year.