Flyers defense prospect Wyatte Wylie was a late riser last season on the 2018 NHL Draft radar. Playing in the Western Hockey League (WHL) for his hometown team, the Everett Silvertips, the Washingtonian was especially good during the playoffs for a team than fell two wins shy of claiming the WHL championship.
Wylie parlayed his strong second half and playoff performance into being selected by the Flyers in the fifth round - 127th overall.
Although primarily known as a solid defender who was a regular on the Tips' penalty kill, the righthanded shooting defenseman emerged as an all-situations player for his team last season. Wylie's fluid skating is an asset, and he can move the puck up ice and chip in periodic offensive (31 regular season points in 72 games, eight playoff points in 22 games). He plays well within structure and maintains good gaps. Physically, while the 6-foot-1, 192-pound defenseman would never be described as an "old-school crusher," he is sturdy and does not back down.
"His makeup is he's a solid, steady guy. He's a pretty good defender with a nice compete level and he has the ability to make the simple play going forward, so there's nothing really flashy but he's a pretty effective guy," Flyers western-based amateur scout Mark Greig said after the 2018 Draft.
Top Flyers goaltending prospect Carter Hart played behind Wylie for the last two seasons in Everett. He said that his now-former (and potential future) teammate is the type of teammate that goalies in particular appreciate because they help make the netminder's job a little easier.
"Just little things he does, the way he positions himself, the communication, he was a good defenseman for our team. I liked playing with Wyatte," Hart said.
The Silvertips underwent a coaching change this season. After four years in Everett and three straight second-round exits in the playoffs, former NHL head coach Kevin Constantine was out. He later signed a three-year contract to coach a South Korean team in the Asia League. He was replaced by Dennis Williams, who had previously coached Neumann College (Aston, PA), the NAHL's Amarillo Bulls and the USHL's Bloomington Thunder.
The change behind the bench meant not only a personality change from the intense Constantine but also some stylistic adjustments on the ice. Constantine's system was rigidly structured and more defensive-oriented than conducive to scoring a lot of goals. Williams still emphasized 200-foot responsibility but opened things up a bit, including activating the defensemen more frequently.
"Its the same mentality but Dennis added his part of it in. I really enjoyed it and it was a good year," Wylie said.
After a slow start, the Silvertips struck a good balance and truly started firing on all cylinders when Hart returned from a bout with mononucleosis. The team maintained by far the lowest goals against average in the WHL but also bumped up its goal output to the highest in franchise history (albeit middle of the pack in the league). Two years after scoring just 182 goals for the season, the Silvertips scored 246 goals last season while allowing a mere 167.
At the Draft, Wylie was jokingly asked if his presence on the Everett blueline was the key to all the awards Hart won during his record-breaking (the first three-time winner of the Del Wilson Trophy as WHL goalie of the year, and the first two-time CHL Goalie of the Year honoree) junior career. The 18-year-old played along.
"I mean, I don't like to say it, but...." he trailed off, grinning.
Not only has Everett native Wylie had the opportunity to play major junior hockey in his hometown, he was in another special place to him when he got selected in the 2018 Draft, which was held in Dallas. Originally a product of the Everett Jr. Silvertips during his midget hockey years, Wylie relocated for a year to play for Dallas Jr. Stars U16 team for the 2015-16 before moving up to play in the Western League.
"It was when I was 15 and it was my first experience moving away from home. It was kind of nerve-wracking at first, but I loved it and the family I stayed with are like my second family now and we're really close. I visit all the time. It was a good experience," Wylie said.
Upon returning to his home state, Wylie dressed in a playoff game for Constantine's Silvertips in 2016. The next season, he established himself as a regular starter as he dressed in 71 of 72 games in the regular season and 10 playoff tilts. His role expanded under Williams in 2017-18.
Wylie is more experienced and comfortable playing right defense; his natural side. However, he spent the 2016-17 season on the left side. While that added a bit more versatility to how he could be deployed, Wylie was more effective on the right. When playing on the off-side, among other adjustments, a defenseman has to adjust to being on his backhand more frequently as well as being alert to the inherent risks of exposing the puck over the middle when handling it in front.
"Last year [2016-17], I played left side as a right-handed shot all year long and by the end of the year I was used to it and could play it but it's obviously not as comfortable as your normal side and your strong side, so I really enjoy playing the right side now," Wyle said.
As the 2017-18 season progressed, NHL scouting interest in Wylie picked up significantly. The Flyers were not the only team eyeing him for a potential middle-to-late round selection.
"I talked to [Philly] a few times, but you don't know what's going to happen and you just have an open-mind and open-heart and be excited for anything," Wylie said.
When Wylie's name was called on the second day of the 2018 Draft, there was a lot of enthusiasm emanating from a pocket of the crowd at the American Airlines Center. Wyatte had one of the larger cheering sections among the second-day draftees, with roughly 30 family members and friends in attendance. They exalted.
"It's the first time anything like this in my family has happened for anybody, so it's exciting and I'm beyond thankful," added Wylie.
Come next season, there will be a lot of transition on the Silvertips roster. Many of its key players, including Hart, are moving up to the professional ranks. While Wylie said his old teammates are a "special group of guys to me," he added that he is also very much looking forward to the challenge of being an important part of it's transition to a new era of team history.
Wylie aims to keep developing his all-around game, including the offensive elements that were hinted at last season. He believes that he has more to give on both sides of the puck.
"I like to describe myself as a two-way defenseman, one that can move pucks up and likes to join the play," he said.