Ups and downs at UMD have prepared Kaiser for jump to NHL, Chicago Blackhawks

Bulldogs junior defenseman Wyatt Kaiser has signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks that begins this season. He'll joins the NHL team right away on Wednesday.

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Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (5) skates against St. Cloud State forward Zach Okabe (14) at Amsoil Arena on Friday, Jan. 27 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The up-and-down 2022-23 season that came to a close for Minnesota Duluth on Sunday in an NCHC quarterfinal loss at St. Cloud State was a frustrating one for players like Bulldogs junior defenseman Wyatt Kaiser after his first two seasons at UMD ended in the NCAA Frozen Four and NCAA regional final.

But it did prepare him in a way for what’s next.

Kaiser has signed a three-year entry level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks that begins with the 2022-23 season. He’s forgoing his final two seasons of NCAA eligibility — he had an extra one from playing during COVID-19 as a freshman — and reporting right away to a Blackhawks franchise that currently sits 30th out of 32 teams in the NHL.

“Over the last three years, I’ve been building up skills and working hard at it,” Kaiser said of making the jump to the NHL. He’s flying out Wednesday to join the Blackhawks. “It was my time to move on and I’m ready. I’m excited. It should be a fun opportunity.”

Kaiser was drafted by Chicago in the third round of the 2020 draft, No. 81 overall. He was a second-team All-NCHC selection this season as a junior after landing on the all-rookie team and earning honorable mention his rookie year.


A native of Andover, Kaiser jumped right from high school to the NCAA, playing just 11 games in the USHL during his senior year at Andover. He compiled seven goals and 45 assists in 97 games at UMD over three seasons. He didn’t pick up his first goal as a Bulldog until Oct. 22, 2021, in his sophomore season, after registering 10 assists as a freshman.

Kaiser went from two goals and 17 assists in 34 games last season to five goals and 18 assists this year on a Bulldogs team that was sixth in the NCHC in scoring offense at 2.57 goals per game.

Kaiser said in his first season he became a better defensive defenseman, learned how to create more offense his sophomore year and this year took a step in terms of his off-ice preparation. He credited Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin for helping him grow both on the ice and off it.

Bulldogs junior defenseman Wyatt Kaiser joins the podcast this week to talk about his 2022-23 season, and share some of his cooking skills

“He genuinely cares about every player,” Kaiser said. “He does it in his own way, and he’ll tell you that. He coaches in his own way, but genuinely cares about every single hockey player. He is doing everything to push that player to become a better hockey player, whether he’s yelling at you or watching video with you, talking to you. Everything he does is seemingly calculated into making you a better person and player.”

The adversity of playing during COVID-19 also helped him grow up while at UMD, Kaiser said.

UMD went to the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh during Kaiser’s freshman year in 2020-21, a season that didn’t count toward his eligibility because of all the pandemic restrictions in place. The Bulldogs lost in the semifinals that year to eventual national champion UMass. Last year, UMD was ousted in an NCAA regional final by eventual national champion Denver.

Kaiser’s last game as a Bulldog on Sunday was Game 3 of a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series in St. Cloud. The defeat snapped UMD’s streak of seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. This was the Bulldogs’ first losing season since 2012-13.

Wyatt Kaiser (5) of Minnesota Duluth takes the puck from Massachusetts forward Anthony Del Gaizo (27) during an NCAA Frozen Four semifinal game on Thursday, April 8, 2021, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
(Clint Austin / File / News Tribune)

The Blackhawks are in the midst of a rebuild at 22-38-6 going into Tuesday’s home game against the Boston Bruins. The franchise just traded away its star player, Patrick Kane, and will be rebuilding for some time yet.


Kaiser said the Bulldogs struggles this season taught him to focus on every single day, and not to look too far ahead.

Though he is aware the Blackhawks are scheduled to play the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, March 25, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“How do you get better in that day?” Kaiser said of the lesson learned in 2022-23 at UMD. “Keep working and working and building to be better as a team and as an individual. You're going to get frustrated, there's going to be ups and downs, but as long as you stay with it, keep going, that's the main takeaway from this year. Just keep building.”

Familiar faces

When Kaiser is added to the Blackhawks’ roster, he’ll join two former Bulldogs — forward Joey Anderson and goaltender Alex Stalock. Derek Plante, who was an associate head coach at UMD during Kaiser’s first two years as a Bulldog, is currently an assistant in Chicago under first-year head coach Luke Richardson. Former Bulldog Norm Maciver is the team’s associate general manager.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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