Minnesota Duluth freshman defenseman Wyatt Kaiser grew up a Minnesota Wild fan in Ham Lake. His favorite player was Marian Gaborik.
Kaiser's allegiance took a sharp turn on Wednesday, however, when he was selected by the rival Chicago Blackhawks in the third round, No. 81 overall, of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Now he has one less professional team from Minnesota to disappoint him.
“I was super excited to get drafted by Chicago, it’s such a great organization,” said Kaiser, who was ready and willing to switch his hockey fandom based on who drafted him. “Honestly, the Wild have been kind of always letting me down lately.”
Kaiser, 18, was one of three Bulldogs taken during the virtual draft on Tuesday and Wednesday along with freshman forward Blake Biondi of Hermantown and future UMD center Jack Smith of St. Cloud. They both went in the fourth round to Montreal.
The 6-foot, 173-pound Kaiser led Andover High School out of Section 7AA to the state tournament a year ago while totaling 11 goals and 32 assists in 31 games as a senior captain. The 2020 Reed Larson Award winner as the top senior defenseman in the state of Minnesota also played 11 games of junior hockey in the fall with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League, being credited with three assists.
Kaiser said he spoke to all 31 NHL teams during a three-and-a-half-week span this offseason. He was ranked No. 37 among North American skaters in the final NHL Central Scouting 2020 draft rankings while TSN’s Bob McKenzie — who relies on NHL scouts for his rankings — had him slotted No. 81 overall.
“It’s a little bit surreal. It really hasn’t hit me yet that I was drafted,” Kaiser said from his home in Ham Lake. The Bulldogs allowed both him and Biondi to return home to catch the draft with family. “I’m sure on the drive home to Duluth tonight that it will hit me more. It’s awesome.”
The Bulldogs’ program and Blackhawks organization have developed strong ties to each other in recent years.
Hawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver was a three-time All-American and Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist for the Bulldogs in the 1980s. Meanwhile, current associate head coach Derek Plante — also a Hobey Baker finalist during his playing days at UMD — spent the previous five seasons as a player development coach for the Blackhawks organization before rejoining the UMD coaching staff over the summer.
Kaiser said he had spoken to Plante just the other day about the coach’s time with the Blackhawks organization. He wanted to know about Plante’s time in player development and what it was like compared to being a college coach.
Now the Bulldog freshman is a Blackhawk himself.
“He said he really liked it. He talked about the organization, the guys, how as a player they help you develop,” Kaiser said. “It was funny I was talking to him about that and then I get picked up by (Chicago). It’s a great organization and there are great people there, they are doing great work.”