Blackhawks’ Wyatt Kalynuk excels in AHL debut, makes case for NHL opportunity

Kalynuk notched his first professional goal and first professional assist in the Rockford IceHogs’ season opener.

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Wyatt Kalynuk hadn’t played an actual game since his University of Wisconsin days until Saturday in Rockford.

Tom Lynn/UW Athletics

Wyatt Kalynuk went nearly 11 months without playing a competitive hockey game.

But Kalynuk, one of the Blackhawks’ top defenseman prospects, made up for lost time Saturday. Making his first professional appearance, he scored his first goal and notched his first assist in the IceHogs’ AHL season opener against the Wolves.

‘‘He was excellent,’’ IceHogs coach Derek King said. ‘‘Looking at him playing this game, you wouldn’t think it was his first time at this level. . . . He looked very comfortable, real poised with the puck. This kid’s going to be a hockey player.’’

Said Kalynuk: ‘‘No matter where you are, if you’re not playing, it’s hard to just step in and play. But the biggest thing was just getting back and having to make decisions at a high speed. The game was fast. Everyone’s big and strong, obviously. But just getting your head back into playing hockey, that’s the biggest adjustment right now.’’

Kalynuk, 23, had spent the first month of the season with the Hawks, practicing and working out with the team but not getting into an NHL game.

That he didn’t play for the Hawks was somewhat surprising, considering how he was one of the best defensemen in college hockey last season at Wisconsin and chose to sign with the Hawks last summer out of a long list of suitors.

Nonetheless, Kalynuk said he found the experience valuable.

‘‘Getting to watch the games live and getting to practice with the big guys up there was good,’’ he said. ‘‘I learned a lot of things just watching guys like [Duncan] Keith and [Connor] Murphy, guys that have been around.

‘‘The biggest thing is their stick. If you watch Duncan Keith’s stick, it’s like nobody else in the NHL really has a stick like him.’’

Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said he wasn’t able to watch the IceHogs’ first game but heard promising reports about Kalynuk.

The Hawks would be wise to give him an NHL opportunity at some point this season, and it sounds as though that’s their plan.

‘‘We can’t predict the future, but that’s why we signed him,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We think he has the ability. . . . Ultimately, it’s up to him, but it’s definitely all there for him.’’

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