Yessir! The kid IS for real!

Marc Elliott

Kirill Kaprizov, left, and Wild goalie Cam Talbot offer congratulations for a 4-3 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings in Kaprizov’s mid-January debut game. Kaprizov scored the winning goal.

St. Paul – If you are a Minnesota hockey aficionado, I needn’t educate you on the Wild’s most significant addition and splash maker for this season, Kirill Kaprizov.
You likely are aware of his back-ground – drafted 135th overall by the Wild in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in the 5th round. Before that, he was drafted first overall in the 2014 KHL Junior draft and opted to sign with Metallurg Novokuznetsk for the 2014-15 season.
Shortly after being drafted by the Wild, he signed a three-year extension with Metallurg, obligating him to the KHL club through the 2019-20 season. 
Re-upping with Metallurg was a complicating factor in understanding this player and why he may not have wanted to come over to North America and join the Minnesota team as soon as possible.
Many theories abounded at the time. Maybe he didn’t establish any rapport with the Wild’s then-GM Chuck Fletcher. Perhaps he didn’t want to play in the NHL or be a long way from home.
I’m not so sure we ever got a right answer for why he didn’t make it over, and that damned KHL contract was going to hang like an albatross over the entire matter.
I saw some film of him both at the junior level and his Olympic perform-ance and wasn’t sure what to think. The Pyeongchang Olympics weren’t a “best on best” tournament without the NHL players present. The Russian entry won the Gold, and Kaprizov was one of the Russian squad’s dominant players.
Still, I wasn’t sure what to make of this player or how to judge him. Minimal KHL tape was available on him. 
Then Fletcher was dismissed, and the Wild brought Bill Guerin on board. It was eventually mentioned that Guerin would reach out to Kaprizov to let him know the Wild valued him and wanted to sign him.
The Wild finally signed him on July 13, 2020. The contract was structured so it had to include the 19-20 season. And since it was only a two-year deal, Kaprizov will become an RFA after this season.
This could present a tricky situation for Guerin. Another team could con-ceivably offer sheet Kaprizov, I presume with an offer the Wild couldn’t match, and they could lose him. So, after all of the waiting to finally get him on the roster, it could evaporate somewhat quickly. 
In the timeframe between Kaprizov being drafted by the Wild and final-ly getting into a Wild sweater, I exchang-ed a lot of dialogue with other fans on various blogs. I often found myself at odds with a lot of them.
My opinion on this player was that we had an idea of what the player could become. But we still didn’t know how he would do in that “best on best” scenario I mentioned earlier. Neither did we know how he would react to playing in the best league in the world.
And now we have a clearer picture of what the club has. 
I’ll gladly admit that this player is a lot better than I thought he would be. To me, he isn’t a top-three overall type of player, but he clearly has some skills that a lot of other players do not have.
The way he sees and thinks the game is a cut above most players in the league. And he came over here with 293 KHL games under his belt. You could say he has already been through his professional “break-in” period. His KHL totals showed him being close in goals and assists.
To date with the Wild, he appears to be more pass than shoot, but he is almost at a point per game pace, so who am I to complain? (22GP, 6G/13A/19 points).
He seems to have cooled off a bit in recent games. But he is pushing the envelope on every shift.
Considering that the league isn’t in the middle of a “normal” season and that the kid is a long way from home in a new culture and society, with all the usual rules and norms having been changed due to the pandemic, Kaprizov is doing quite well. 
He astounded the entire Wild fan base in his very first game against the LAK on the road with two assists and the OT-winning goal in his first NHL tilt. Unreal.
His puck-handling skills are incred-ible, and as I have stated, his play-making abilities are off the charts. He is currently at a .86 PPG pace, and that’s pretty outstanding for any player. 
In my opinion, he will be a very good top-six forward for years to come. How far can he take it?
I believe he will settle in after this season, be more comfortable, and we will get an even clearer picture of the player he can be. I think in an optimum season, he could be an 80-100 point player. Time will tell.
I believe I was right to be cautious in my original assessments of him, and I’m pretty glad to say this kid has blown right past all of my expectations... PEACE
SO, WILL THE real Minnesota Wild stand up?
Indeed, this has been a strange season with many things present that wouldn’t be. And some teams have had to deal with more external issues than the Wild.
However, in trying to “read” this team, it’s difficult because it isn’t what we consider normal. The team won four of the first five games but ended January at 6-4. In February, the team had several players in COVID protocol and had five games postponed. They went on a streak upon their return and finished the month at 6-2. 
So far in March, the team just went 1-3 on a West Coast roadie and are awaiting a match with the VGK this eve in St. Paul.
In the 4th game of the road trip, the team had an excellent first period versus ARI, then fell apart en route to a 5-2 loss. They appeared winded and sluggish.
So the question begs to be asked; the remainder of the season will be NHL condensed schedule 2.0; how is the Wild going to react to that? Does the club have the netminding to keep stringing some wins together?
My two Wild worries, ability to score against upper-level teams and netminding. 
Some WILD vitals; 15th in the Sagarin ranking service on a 13-9 record. (8th before Saturday nights game) 24th ranked difficulty of schedule. 2-4 vs. the top 10, 2-4 vs. the top 16. 
The ATHLETIC projects the team for a 3rd place finish in the West on a 32-19-5 finish for 69 points with a 3% chance of a Stanley Cup. Current; 4th place/West on a 13-8-1 record for 27 points. That’s a .614 points percentage. ROW = 13. GF = 69, GA = 60, differential = +9. 5-3 @ H, 8-5-1 @ Away. 7-2-1 in L10. 
Tonight’s game vs. the Golden Knights would be a great chance to start to string some points games together, preferably wins. They’ll play one more with the VGK and two with the Yotes this week! Time to make hay! OVER AND OUT!