Rookie defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk left Monday night’s game between the Blackhawks and Predators after injuring his left hip during just his second shift.
If he ends up missing time, it’ll be a significant loss. Kalynuk recently evolved from a nobody to a regular — making 10 straight appearances after playing in just one of the Hawks’ first 36 games — and had been making a sizable impact. Earlier Monday, he and coach Jeremy Colliton had spoken about his impressive growth.
“It’s been a fun few weeks, for sure,” Kalynuk said. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m just looking forward to continuing to grow and get better.”
Added Colliton: “He’s taken huge strides right from training camp. [He’s] getting more comfortable with the league and his teammates, and he’s coming out of his shell personality-wise, which is huge. That goes hand-in-hand with playing well and gaining confidence.”
With fellow rookies Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin mostly out of the lineup lately, and with Adam Boqvist and Calvin de Haan missing time with injuries, Kalynuk’s rapid emergence had helped the Hawks survive a defensive personnel puzzle. (De Haan returned Monday just in time for Kalynuk’s exit.)
Kalynuk, a University of Wisconsin product and Flyers draft pick whom the Hawks poached last summer, has four points — including three in his last four games — while averaging more than 15 minutes of ice time.
He technically scored his first NHL goal on a fluky bounce April 10, but he fully earned one Saturday against the Red Wings when he both started and finished off a beautiful end-to-end rush with forwards Patrick Kane and Vinnie Hinostroza.
“He brings in that offensive mentality,” wing Alex DeBrincat said Monday. “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. His goal the other night was a good example of that: He’s all the way up in the play, he’s going to the net hard, gets a good pass and is able to put it in the net. That’s something we need. He’s been great, very impressive.”
Kalynuk spent a lot of time practicing and watching film with the Hawks earlier in the season and dominated with 10 points in eight games during a brief AHL stint.
However, he admitted Monday he’s still learning the nuances of Colliton’s defensive system. That learning process didn’t accelerate until he began playing regularly.
“You can watch all the video you want . . . but actually being on the ice and seeing plays develop and making reads in the ‘D’-zone and trying to figure out where you need to be at certain times, that’s what it takes,” Kalynuk said. “[It’s] a little different than what I’ve played the past three years at school. . . . I’m getting more comfortable and making better reads and closing quicker [on opponents].”
The numbers indicate Kalynuk was, more often than not, making the correct reads and occupying the correct positions. After a rough first three games, his analytics were strong over his last seven; he ranked sixth on the team in even-strength scoring-chance ratio (52.2%) and eighth in even-strength shot-attempt ratio (52.7%) during that period.
He was actively contributing to those ratios, too. He ranked second among Hawks defensemen, behind only Boqvist, in individual scoring chances per minute and fourth in individual shot attempts.
Kalynuk left Wisconsin with a reputation as an elite skater and very good passer and puck-mover — someone who could gather the puck in the defensive zone and swiftly transfer it into and through the neutral zone.
He had to wait awhile to display those skills at the NHL level, making his injury even more untimely.