Kirill Kaprizov’s debut was worth the wait for the Minnesota Wild.
When Minnesota selected Kaprizov in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (135th overall), the Wild was a different franchise. Mike Yeo was their head coach, Mikko Koivu was the team’s captain, and they were coming off a strong 100 point season off the backs of strong performances by Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville – two of whom aren’t even in the league right now.
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But what should fans expect to see from the 5-foot-9, 185-pound left wing from the Russian Federation in this, his 23-year-old rookie season?
Well, if you believe the fine folks over at NHL in their 31-in-31 series, Kaprizov projects as a top-line left winger paired up with Marcus Johansson and Kevin Fiala. In theory, that makes sense, as Johansson is a certified puck distributor and Kaprizov is a crafty goal scorer who can put together plays like these.
Would Dean Evason give his rookie that much play? Or would he instead have to his earn his minutes the good old-fashioned way by working up the depth chart the hard way?
Well, as it turns out, Kaprizov did earn a look on Evason’s top-line alongside Zach Parise and Nick Bjugstad. He played a (forward) team-high 21:52 TOI, took two shots on goal, and finished out the contest with three points.
Oh yeah, and he did this to close out the game and secure the Wild an overtime win over their new divisional foes, the Los Angeles Kings.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the captain, but I’ve got to admit, that steal/shot combo was sweet.
While this is the first time Kaprizov played a professional hockey game in the good old North American continent, you’d never know it by his game tape. No, just like during his time in the KHL, Kaprizov skated with a smooth, athletic edge you’d associate with a top-six playmaking wing and even dished out a pair of assists in route to a +/- of three – the best mark of any player on either team.
Is it sustainable? Can Kaprizov continue on playing at this pace, or will he naturally regress as the season goes on and hit a rookie wall that’s all too familiar for even the most highly-touted first year skaters? Either way, it doesn’t take a single thing away from just how impactful Kaprizov’s addition was on his new team on opening night and just how hyped Minnesota Wild fans were on Twitter to watch the 23-year-old seal an overtime W on their opponent’s ice. That’s pretty… wild.