Virden product Wyatt Kalynuk turned a lot of heads in his rookie pro hockey season.
The 24-year-old son of Leanne and Randy Kalynuk earned a spot on the Chicago Blackhawks’ blue line for 21 National Hockey League contests last season. He posted nine points in those games. As well, Kalynuk quickly proved to a force to be reckoned with for the Rockford (Ill.) IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ top farm team. The former Virden Oil Capital had 10 points in eight American Hockey League contests. What was the best part of a rookie season that included numerous firsts and highlights?
“Obviously, finally achieving a lifelong dream - I think that was a cool part,” Kalynuk said. “I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn’t know where I was going to spend the year and how it was going to go. I'm happy that when I went down to Rockford, I thought I played well and I kind of earned my chance. That’s kind of what I was most happy about this year.”
He impressed observers and teammates alike. Writer Jeremiah Lee of the Blackhawk Up website wrote, “Kalynuk is exactly what the Blackhawks want in a defenceman: Fast, reliable in his own end, and can pinch to contribute on the play.”Chicago forward Alex DeBrincat was quoted in an April 20 Chicago Sun-Times articles as saying of Kalynuk:
“He brings in that offensive mentality. He’s jumping up into the play a lot — he can make clean passes, and that’s great. That’s how you can win games. … He’s been great, very impressive.”
In his final of three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Kalynuk posted 28 points, including seven goals, in 36 games. With the Blackhawks, he collected four goals and five assists in 21 contests. What allowed the smooth skating defenceman, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 180-pounds, to put up points as a rookie?
“I think I kind of just played the same way that I played as when I was in college,” Kalynuk said. “I got a nice opportunity on the powerplay and I thought I took advantage of that. … I kept it simple, I thought, for the first little while. When I settled in, I tried to play that offensive style that I always play.”
While he is known for his offensive prowess, Kalynuk has shown that he can also defend at the NHL level. On the Second City Hockey website, writer Mil Savich stated:
“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 …”
Going from the NCAA Division I ranks to the NHL – with a short stint in the minor leagues in between – was definitely a step up.
“I think the biggest difference is guys are always in the right spot,” Kalynuk said. “As an offensive D-man in college, I thought I could kind of anticipate in the D-zone and take my chances and a lot of times be lucky, or whatever you want to call, but I’d have that jump and I’d be up in the play early. In the NHL, it doesn’t happen like that. It’s kind of harder … you have a few more things to worry about in the D-zone.”
A 2017 seventh round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers who signed with Chicago in the summer of 2020, Kalynuk faced head-on the challenge of spending time with the ‘Hawks, IceHogs and the Chicago taxi squad. The latter was created for the 2020-2021 NHL season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure NHL teams had players available on short notice. Kalynuk did not see being sent to Rockford or the taxi squad as a demotion.
“Being my first year, anytime I went down to Rockford I wasn’t really disappointed. I was just kind of happy to get to play in games again. … It was fun to get to play. I took advantage of it. I was happy to be where I was. I think that resulted in me playing well enough and making it to play at the top level.”
Now that Kalynuk has played at the game’s top level, he wants to stay there. He is based in Madison, Wisc. this summer – where he played college hockey. He said he is focusing, as he has for the past few off-seasons, on getting a little bigger and stronger.
Support from his family helped Kalynuk make it to the next level. Due to the pandemic, his clan – including his parents, Grandma Betty McSorley, twin sister Lexie Kalynuk, sister and brother-in-law Quinn and Donovan McLean, and niece Aida McLean – were unable to visit and see him play in person. Kalynuk said he talked to his family often.
“The support from them has been amazing. … It would have been really nice to have them there,” Kalynuk said. “Next year I know they’ll be on the first flight down … Huge support. I can’t wait to pay in front of them next year.”