As a young pro player there is definitely stress and pressure as Wyatt Kalynuk tries to carve out a National Hockey League career, but the Virden product tries not take for granted the fact he is paid for playing the game he loves.
“When you’re traveling and playing a lot of games, it is not easy, but it’s still hockey,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. We’re pretty lucky to play it for a living. … Everything about it – being on the road is fun, traveling is fun. Lucky to be able to do this.”
The son of Randy and Leanne Kalynuk split his first two pro seasons between the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, their taxi squad, and the organization’s top farm team – the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. This offseason the 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenceman inked a deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
“There’s an opportunity there for me,” Kalynuk said. “Obviously, a team that is a little bit against the cap and needs young players to come in and play for them. I have a chance out of camp to hopefully get a shot. If not, I’ll keep working and hopefully, at some point, establish myself in the NHL.”
If he does not end up full-time with the Canucks, Kalynuk will play for their AHL affiliate - Abbotsford (B.C.) Canucks. The head coach there is Jeremy Colliton, who led the Blackhawks when Kalynuk made his NHL debut.
“I know him pretty well,” Kalynuk said. “It is nice to have a relationship there with him.”
Last season Kalynuk saw action in five contests for the Blackhawks after being sidelined early on by a high ankle sprain sustained in training camp. In 52 games last winter with the IceHogs, he scored seven goals and recorded 20 assists.
In a July 21 post on the Canucks Army website, writer Noah Strang praised Vancouver’s signing of Kalynuk.
“Kalynuk is a late bloomer that has shown an intriguing set of offensive skills from the blue line. He’s still young enough where he could add to his game and become a legitimate NHL contributor. … Kalynuk is an intriguing player to add to the system that can help Abbotsford while providing a call-up option for the big club.”
Strang wrote that the former University of Wisconsin standout is “a smooth skater that can wheel his way out of trouble. He likes to jump up into the play and can act as another dangerous option on any offensive attack.”
As a youngster, Kalynuk developed his game on local teams and playing at the outdoor rink at the Virden Junior High School. His father helped maintain the rink and taught at the school. Kalynuk played one season for the U18 AAA Southwest Cougars before moving onto the Virden Oil Capitals of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Before college, he suited up for three seasons in the United Stated Hockey League split between the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars and Bloomington (Ill.) Thunder.
At each stop in his journey, Kalynuk has been encouraged by his family. That group includes Grandma Betty McSorley and his sisters, Lexie and Quinn.
“They have never missed a game and I don’t think that they ever will. They have traveled so much. …
“Without them, I know I wouldn’t be where I am,” Kalynuk said of his family. “All the sacrifices my mom and dad made – especially when we were young kids and were traveling. It’s not cheap. It’s a lot of time. It’s a lot of driving. It’s a lot of everything
“My dad and the work he put in with me. My skating is probably my biggest strength and he kind of taught me the most of that. …
“I’m pretty lucky to have the family I do, and I definitely appreciate everything they do.”
While he has played for many years away from Virden, Kalynuk still feels the support he gets from his hometown.
“I have an awesome group of buddies that I keep in touch with.”
Kalynuk also appreciates how other Virden area residents cheer him on.
“The town of Virden – it’s so cool that everyone is so proud,” he said. “I really think a lot of it. It’s pretty awesome.”
Before spending some time in Virden in August, Kalynuk focused his offseason in Madison, Wisc. where he worked on his game. While he continues to work on his entire game, Kalynuk said some areas of focus where his strength – trying to get stronger as well as to regain strength lost during a long season, skating, and defending down low. While coaches have long praised Kalynuk’s skating skills, it is something he still strives to improve.
“I think my skating is for sure my biggest strength – being mobile on the ice,” he said. “Because you are good at it now doesn’t mean you can’t continue to work at it and get better at it.”