It may not have happened in the prototypical way, but Virden’s Wyatt Kalynuk has quietly signed his very first NHL contract. Coming as a part of a three-player signing announcement by the Chicago Blackhawks late last week, the captain of the University of Wisconsin Badgers will be packing his bags and making the 150-mile drive southeast of the Kohl Center to the ‘Madhouse on Madison’ for training camp this winter.
“I was actually on a boat for the 4th of July when it officially happened,” Kalynuk told Game On Magazine on the signing of his contract. “I gave my verbal commitment on the fourth, but I guess I was only able to actually sign the paper last week. It was kind of a long process. Obviously, I was drafted by Philadelphia, so I needed to wait 30 days after school was over for me to actually become a free agent, which is what I thought would be best for me. So once those 30 days were up, I got in contact with a number of teams. We got it down to six teams and had interviews with all of them. Ultimately I ended up picking Chicago. It’s been nothing short of a fun time since then. It’s pretty exciting for me and my family, with everyone reaching out and saying congratulations.”
Originally selected 196th overall in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenceman opted to forego his signing period, becoming a free agent and able to sign with whatever organization he so chooses. Officially, Kalynuk inked a two-year, entry-level deal, carrying a $925K cap hit and a minors salary of $70K annually.
“I could have went to Philadelphia for sure if the offer was there, but on an entry-level contract in the NHL, the money is pretty much the same no matter where you go,” he said. “I guess I was in a unique spot having been drafted as a 20-year-old. I could become a free agent after three years instead of four, and I thought that if I could look at every single team and then pick one, I thought it would be a better option.”
For the 23-year-old, feeling comfortable within both his playing and living situation has become a luxury he’s not quite willing to part with. With Chicago, Kalynuk feels the opportunity for immediate success is there for the taking.
“There are a bunch of reasons why I chose Chicago,” he added. “Right off the start, they showed by far the most interest of any team. I think in Chicago there might be a pretty good opportunity for me to step in right away and make the team out of camp. Also being close to Madison, I’ve played at the United Center a couple of times; I’ve been to a couple Hawks games. Being close and just having a bit of a feel for the organization was another plus as well.”
The feeling of comfort was something he developed within his three years playing on the blueline at Kohl Center in the University of Wisconsin. Manning the point on the power play, Kalynuk produced back-to-back 25-point seasons in his freshman and sophomore campaigns, before scoring seven goals and 28 points in his final season with the Badgers. His final NCAA stat-line includes 19 goals, 78 points and 84 penalty minutes in 110 college hockey games.
“It was the three best years of my life,” Kalynuk said. “They treat you like gold here. For road games we get on a charter flight; we have a private plane. The food… everything is just top-notch. From the hockey standpoint, anything you could want we had it here. You walk into our rink and you see the facilities we have. You see a 15,000 seat arena – that’s basically an NHL rink. Huge jumbotron, the second biggest in college hockey (next to the University of North Dakota). For someone who wants to come play college hockey, you can’t really beat it here. Obviously you have the social aspect too. We have a huge football program and 48,000 students in Madison. Coming from Virden, it was a huge difference. I absolutely enjoyed every second of it. I’ll always remember these three years in college.”
The communications major actually stayed down in Madison during the COVID-19 pandemic, where he has been training both on and off-ice on the daily, alongside teammate and local Madison product, Mick Messner.
“Back in March, when everything started to shutdown, our school went completely online. The NHL shut down and most of our guys went home,” Kalynuk said. “But I weighed my options and decided to stay here in Madison. I had ice, I had a gym, whereas, if I went home, I would have had none of that. I’ve been here since march, but the guys are starting to come back now. I’ve pretty much becme a part of Mick’s family. I eat dinner with them every day and use their home gym. There is some ice here too, so that’s been quite nice.”
As for the 2020-21 season, the former MJHL Oil Capital has his sights set roughly two hours away down Interstate I-90.
“I think obviously the ultimate goal would be to play in the NHL right away,” Kalynuk said matter of factly. “I’m excited to get to Chicago and meet some of the guys. I look forward to just getting started and really getting to work there. My goal is to prove that I can play there right away.”