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Wyatt Kalynuk not returning to Wisconsin; is he on his way to the Flyers?

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The Wisconsin defenseman won’t be back in college after a strong junior year and plans to turn pro, but it’s not yet confirmed that he’ll be headed to the Flyers.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: NOV 24 Wisconsin at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NHL season might be back, so naturally, we’ve got ... prospects to talk about. News came out of Wisconsin on Wednesday afternoon, as Wisconsin Badgers head coach (and former Peter Laviolette shouting foil) Tony Granato stated that Flyers 2017 seventh-rounder Wyatt Kalynuk will not be back with the Badgers this coming fall and is planning to sign a professional contract.

Via Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal, in a piece about Wisconsin naming its team captains for the upcoming season:

That Kalynuk wasn’t included in the group when it was announced was a red flag about his status with the Badgers for next season. The seventh-round pick of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers in 2017 hasn’t publicly addressed his plans; on Wednesday, he declined comment through a UW spokesperson.

But Badgers coach Tony Granato said that Kalynuk, a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection in 2019-20, is planning on signing professionally.

“I’m all for doing what players think is right for them,” Granato said. “At this point, Wyatt thinks right now it’s better for him to turn pro, and I support that.

“As much as we’d like to have him back here, part of college hockey and part of recruiting great players is the fact that you understand that, unfortunately, sometimes they are ready before their four years expire.”

That Kalynuk is “ready” is not much of a surprise. The Flyers drafted him as a double-overager in 2017, and he’s consistently performed well since arriving in the NCAA the following season. Kalynuk produced seven goals and 21 assists in 36 games, strong numbers for a defenseman and similar production to what he posted in his previous two seasons. He was named to the first-team All Big Ten team this year, after being named to the second team the year prior.

Kalynuk’s an interesting prospect, and he’s another name on defense that would be in the mix with the Phantoms next season. At 23, the hope is that he’s pretty close to the NHL-ready — he’s only a few months younger than Ivan Provorov, and a few months older than Phil Myers — but he’s a solid prospect nonetheless. When we did our Top 25 Under 25 refresh back in March, he was the last one to miss the cut (he was “26th”, in other words). And back in February, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked him as the third-best potential college free agent this spring/summer.

There’s the tricky part of this, though: Kalynuk isn’t guaranteed to sign with the Flyers even if he’s going pro.

Via Article 8.6(c)(v) of the NHL CBA, important stuff in bold:

If a Player drafted at age 20 or older is a bona fide college student at the time of his selection or becomes a bona fide college student while his drafting Club retains exclusive rights, then his drafting Club shall retain those rights until the later of: (a) the second June 1 following the date of his selection, or (b) thirty (30) days after NHL Central Registry receives notice that the Player is no longer a bona fide college student; provided that if the Player: (1) is in his fourth year of college and has commenced his fourth year of NCAA eligibility and the Player ceases to be a bona fide college student on or after January 1 of an academic year, or (2) is in his fourth year of college, is scheduled to graduate from college at the end of his fourth year and the Player ceases to be a bona fide college student on or after January 1 of an academic year, or (3) remains a bona fide college student through the graduation of his college class, then in the circumstances described in (1) or (2) or (3), the Club shall retain the exclusive right of negotiation for such Player’s services through and including August 15 of that calendar year.

It took me a few tries reading that to make sure I had it right; tip of the hat to, ironically, SBNation’s Wisconsin Badgers blog, Bucky’s 5th Quarter, for writing about this very situation — see “Example 3” — a few years ago. But essentially, if a team drafts a college player at age 20, they have his rights for at least two years, but at any point after that he can declare his intention to turn pro (“is no longer a bona fide college student”), and 30 days after that occurs, the team that drafted him no longer has his exclusive rights and he becomes a free agent.

In other words, Kalynuk could have left last year if he wanted but didn’t, but by declaring his intention to turn pro, he will have the chance to become a free agent this year if he wants it. (If I understand this right, it’s possible he’s already done so, and that 30 days clock has already been ticking.)

Which prompts the question: will he be signing with the Flyers? Milewski noted in his piece above that the Flyers attempted to sign him last summer but he turned that offer down, and that Kalynuk declined comment on Wednesday through a UW spokesperson. We haven’t heard much concrete on what he’s thinking in the here and now, so we may just have to wait until we get more information. Fellow prospects Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison were also both just a few months away from free agency but both elected to sign with the Flyers earlier in the spring; Kalynuk very well could go down a similar road.

Is there a reason why he wouldn’t want to sign with the team that drafted him? Who knows. Though the Flyers do have a fairly deep prospect group as a whole, the ranks on defense aren’t that crowded; among non-NHLers, the only blueliners the Flyers have who are clearly closer to the NHL than Kalynuk are Samuel Morin (whenever he makes it back onto the ice) and Mark Friedman. Sure, there are other players who have higher prospect billing, such as Cam York and Egor Zamula, but neither of those two has played a professional game yet, and they figure to take a bit more time to get NHL-ready. At his relatively advanced age, it’s not hard to see Kalynuk getting meaningful time with the Phantoms next year, and if he impresses in that time he’d be on the short list for call-ups if the Flyers suffer any injuries. It’s possible some team offers him a situation where he’d be more likely to get NHL time soon, but if Kalynuk’s first stop is the AHL no matter what, he may just stick with the team that drafted him.

If he decides to test the market, he figures to have his pick of offers — teams generally like having the chance to bring in decent prospects for no real cost. Ultimately, we may have to wait to see what Kalynuk’s decision is. Hopefully not, and he’ll sign with the Flyers in short order, but it’s something to keep an eye on.