Despite rookie errors, and they are expected to happen, Wyatt Kalynuk has been a bright spot on the defense.
When Wyatt Kalynuk was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks, I was expecting him to be an effective member of the team next season after a year in the minors. I was wrong, and he became an effective member of the team this year.
Wyatt Kalynuk has been given a bigger role as of late, playing close to 20 minutes a game, scored 9 points in 19 games, and possesses a 16.7% shooting percentage (according to NHL.com). He has a -7 in the plus-minus category, but he plays much better than what this stat portrays.
Kalynuk is exactly what the Blackhawks want in a defenseman: Fast, reliable in his own end, and can pinch to contribute on the play. I have not seen him get out of position after pinching, and that’s a huge plus when it comes to these offensive gifted defensemen.
I think Patrick Sharp said this about him in a pre-game show (or Steve Konroyd, I don’t remember) that Kalynuk could be a 20 goal-scoring defenseman. The way he has been playing, Kalynuk would be on track for (at the time of this writing) a 17 goal, 39 point pace. If you can have a second-pairing defenseman contribute 39 points every season, AND be responsible in his own zone? That’s a huge addition to your roster.
He has also displayed a knack of performing in clutch situations as he is noticeable in OT. Just last night, he assisted on Alex Debrincat‘s GWG against the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s not afraid to jump up on the play and find the soft zone in the ice for a high-risk scoring chance for.
However, he is still pushed around when it comes to physical play, as I was able to see when he tried to pin his man against the boards. His man would then outmuscle him and find the open ice for a goal. This is something he should focus on and maybe see Patrick Kane‘s trainer for strength training. Physical play isn’t his thing, but he has to be able to get stronger to be effective in the league.
To conclude, Wyatt Kalynuk is meeting the expectations given to him based on Tony Granato’s scouting report (via NBC Sports Chicago and NBC Sports Philadelphia):
"“He was our go-to offensive defenseman,” Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato told NBC Sports Philadelphia in March. “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.”"
Just like Tony Granato, Jeremy Colliton has to be impressed with the play Kalynuk has displayed so far. He is still a rookie and, like the rest of these surprising Blackhawks rookies, can only improve for next season. Based on his play right now, and how much an offseason could help him, I would not be surprised if he was given an even bigger role next season.