Despite being a good 2 inches taller, Minnesota Duluth freshman defenseman Wyatt Kaiser is already drawing early comparisons to former Bulldogs defenseman Scott Perunovich, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner.
The 18-year-old, 175-pound Kaiser has made an immediate impact on the Bulldogs roster stepping into roles once filled by Perunovich by playing on the top defensive pairing — alongside senior Louie Roehl, who is the former roommate of Perunovich’s defense partner, Nick Wolff, now of the Boston Bruins — and quarterbacking the power play.
But Kaiser isn’t trying to be Scott Perunovich. He’s just trying to be Wyatt Kaiser.
“I'm just not a comparison guy. I try to stay away from that,” Kaiser said this week on the News Tribune’s Bulldog Insider Podcast. “For me, I’m just trying to be myself, to be completely honest. The media comparing me to Scott Perunovich, I try to do my best to take the things he’s done well and improvise it into my game and learn from it. But at the end of the day, I’m myself. I don’t mind what people say. It doesn’t affect me a whole lot.”
Comparisons are nothing new for Kaiser, who said he encountered them frequently a year ago from media and scouts as a senior top NHL draft prospect at Andover High School.
Drafted in the third round this fall, No. 81 overall, by the Chicago Blackhawks, Kaiser said it was common to have upward of 15 NHL scouts at Huskies’ games last season. That’s when he learned how to best block out all the outside noise, and it has prepared him for the higher levels, like college.
While playing in a pandemic may have something to do with it, Kaiser said he’s encountering less media and scouts, and fewer comparisons, now as a Bulldog.
“I’m just trying to do my best to help the team,” he said. “I try not to worry about any comparisons or outside stuff.”
Kaiser is still searching for his first college goal heading into his first games at Amsoil Arena at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday against league-leading St. Cloud State, but he does have six assists in 11 games to lead all Bulldogs blue-liners in scoring. Four of those helpers have come on the power play, including a dynamic one last Saturday in the 3-1 loss at St Cloud State.
The statistic that has his coaches and teammates fired up, however, is the team-high of 18 blocked shots — also the most for any rookie in the NCHC. He had four blocked shots last Saturday against the Huskies, with three coming on a penalty kill midway through the third that kept the game tied 1-1 at the time.
“I was on the ice and I was getting a little tired. Those blocks were huge for us,” said UMD senior wing and assistant captain Nick Swaney. “Stuff like that, that’s the little things we talk about every single day. That stuff is contagious when you see guys putting their body on the line blocking shots like that.”
- Bulldog Insider Podcast: Getting to know freshman defenseman Wyatt Kaiser
- 2020 NHL Draft: Kaiser happy to jump on Blackhawks' bandwagon after getting drafted in third round
- The Rink Live: Andover's Wyatt Kaiser is a smooth-skating artist/defenseman
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said used the word “exciting” to describe Kaiser’s play on that kill last Saturday, even though it was nothing new. That’s the kind of play Sandelin said he’s seen night in and night out from Kaiser, who, despite coming to UMD right out of high school, has been nothing but consistent.
Playing more minutes than the coach said he planned for the freshman, peaks and valleys to his play have been few and far between.
“Those blocked shots — I’ve talked about his competitiveness — that’s part of that,” Sandelin said. “It’s not just physically. Those things are part of his game. They were huge blocks.”