Kjell Samuelsson had just finished watching a bunch of slick-skating defensemen compete in a 5-on-5 scrimmage at Flyers development camp.
The towering Swede, a 6-foot-6 blueliner during his playing days from 1985 to 1999, was fully aware of the game's trends.
"Mobile defensemen," the Flyers' player development coach said last summer, "that's today's hockey."
And it's right up Wyatt Kalynuk's alley, a reason why there's excitement brewing about the prospect's ceiling at the pro level.
“I think that’s the right way to think because he’s got special offensive ability that other defensemen don’t have," Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato said March 13 in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "He’s confident, his skating ability allows him to be able to have opportunities offensively that other players won’t have and he can beat the first forechecker."
Over 36 games this season as a junior captain for the Badgers, Kalynuk led the team in assists (21) and unassisted goals (three), was second in points (28) and shots (112), and fifth in blocked shots (46). At development camp last summer, the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Kalynuk said skating was his biggest strength. He is advanced in that area and possesses the puck-moving skills the Flyers covet for their hard-on-the-attack, pin-you-in-deep system.
"Great skating ability and he's a young player that looks like he's got a real good pro career," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Jan. 14.
On a young but talented Wisconsin team, Kalynuk was given hefty responsibilities by Granato.
“He was our go-to offensive defenseman, he got the most minutes on the power play, he was the guy we wanted the puck to go through," Granato said. "He’s an elite offensive defenseman that has the ability to run a power play. We asked a lot of him.
"The good thing about him is he knows his responsibilities defensively to take care of that end. So you don’t like saying offensive defenseman because a lot of times you say that and you think players that don’t take pride in the defensive part of the game. That’s certainly not the case with him.
"Defensively, his game was very solid, very responsible. He’s not an overpowering defenseman that’s going to run people over, but positionally, he’s going to be in great position, he’s smart, he makes a great first pass and I think he’s got great potential for a real high-exciting NHL career.”
Kalynuk, who was selected during the seventh round of the 2017 draft as a USHL product, is now considered a top-20 prospect within the Flyers' system.
"I think the dropping so far in the draft had a lot to do with physically he just hadn’t grown into his body yet, so he looked weaker against players his age in his first year," Granato said. "The commitment and work he puts into it is of a professional status, he trains like a professional and puts the work in. It was just a matter of time before he caught up physically with the skill that he has.”
Kalynuk turns 23 years old in April. He has a decision to make of whether he wants to return to Madison for his senior season or sign his entry-level contract with the Flyers and turn pro in 2020-21 with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. As of right now, Kalynuk is still in school and undecided, according to Granato. For the Flyers, Kalynuk's rights don't expire until the summer of 2021. They'll be open to either choice.
“Kjell Samuelsson has been around a lot, Chuck Fletcher I talk to quite a bit," Granato said of his communication with the Flyers during the season. "Philly has had lots of people here and been very instrumental in his growth as a player. I think when they drafted him, they recognized out of the gate that this guy could be a big part of their organization moving forward. They’ve been hands on, they’ve been here a lot, they’ve done it respectfully in a way that they’ve helped him a ton in preparing to get ready for the next step.”
Granato, who has played and coached in the NHL, knows both sides of the coin with his gig and Kalynuk's decision.
"It’s your job to hopefully present them or give them opportunities to be ready for a chance to play in the NHL," Granato said. "And when they are ready, you certainly don’t want to hold them back.
"He has positioned himself to be very, very close to being ready for that opportunity. I’m one to understand that situation and respect it and not try to interfere with it. If he made the decision to come back to go to school, it would obviously be great for our program and it’s not going to hurt his development. Also, on the other side of things, if the situation is right for him to leave, I think he’s in a really good spot to have a chance for a long career. I respect that and whichever way it turns out, I will be a big fan of Wyatt Kalynuk."
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