Minnesota Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov adjusting well to the NHL

Although he’s not an inexperienced teenager, 23-year-old Kirill Kaprizov of Russia is still turning heads with his superb play in the NHL in his rookie campaign. The young winger was drafted in the fifth round with the 135th pick overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2015 despite being just 5-feet-9-inches tall. However, at a solid 200 lbs, he’s enjoying a fine season with 10 goals and 25 points after 29 games and is a front-runner for the 2020-21 Calder Trophy.

Kaprizov hasn’t been overwhelmed in his own end of the ice either as he possessed a plus-6 rating and had chipped in with two power-play goals, two game-winners and an overtime winner. He’s been impressive in even-strength situations while outscoring some of the league’s biggest stars while playing 5-on-5. The creative Kaprizov is considered by many Wild fans to be the team’s most exciting player since Marian Gaborik.

While he may not be the speediest skater, Kaprizov has plenty of hockey sense and a tremendous vision for finding open teammates. However, it took him several games to find linemates which were on the same wavelength as him. He then found himself playing with Mats Zuccarello of Norway on the top line and the two have provided the chemistry that head coach Dean Evason was looking for.

Zuccarello didn’t make his season debut until Feb. 16 due to injury but the team has greatly improved since he returned as the fellow winger has notched five goals and 20 points in his first 18 games. Zuccarello soon realized that while Kaprizov may be playing just his first season in the NHL, his experience in the KHL with CSKA Moscow and other teams has greatly paid off. In fact, the Russian racked up 113 goals and 230 points in 293 games while playing in his homeland for the past seven years.

He won a gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea as Russia’s youngest player as well as a bronze at the 2019 World Championships while winning a silver medal at the 2016 World Junior Championships and a bronze at the same junior event the next year. He played in five KHL All-Star Games and won the league’s Gagarin Cup championship in 2018-19. Kaprizov tallied 31 points in 47 KHL playoff games and posted 26 points in 22 junior games with Russia and has 19 points in his first 23 outings with the senior side.

Kaprizov was chosen first overall in the KHL junior draft by Metallurg Novokuznetsk before being drafted by the Wild a year later. He signed a three-year deal with Metallurg Novokuznetsk in 2015 and was traded to Salavat Yulaev Ufa a year later. He then joined CSKA Moscow in 2017 and helped the club reach the Gagarin Cup finals in 2018 and 2019. Kaprizov netted a career-best 33 goals, 29 helpers and 62 points in 2019-20 in just 57 games and led the league in goals for his second straight season.

He became the youngest player in KHL history to score 100 goals in October, 2019 when he was

22-years and 172-days of age. He inked a two-year, entry-level contract with Minnesota in July, 2020. Kaprizov then debuted with the team on Jan. 14, 2021 and notched three points against the Los Angeles Kings including the overtime winner in a 4-3 triumph. This feat saw him become the first NHL player to tally three points and an overtime marker in his first league outing and the third to score an overtime winner in his debut.

Kaprizov has had no problem adjusting to the NHL and his low centre of gravity has enabled him to become quite durable whenever the going gets tough on the ice. He has the ability do bounce off of physically bigger players without losing a stride and is already considered to be one of the league’s best playmakers this season. The Wild still have a long way to go to clinch a top-four playoff spot though as they sat in third place in the West Division on March, 22nd with 37 points from 29 games. They were five points ahead of the fifth-place Los Angeles Kings with 27 regular-season games remaining in the schedule.

Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane proving he’s still able

Patrick Kane’s no spring chicken when it comes to playing hockey as the 32-year-old veteran forward was originally drafted first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007. The native of Buffalo, New York tallied his 400th career regular-season goal in early March at home against the Detroit Red Wings in a 7-2 triumph. The goal meant he became the ninth American-born player to reach the plateau and the 100th overall.

Kane is enjoying one of his finest seasons as he had racked up 11 goals and 27 assists after 26 games for 38 points. That ranked him second in league scoring behind Connor McDavid’s 43 points and second to McDavid’s 38 assists. Kane also had an impressive plus-8 rating. He’s now in his 14th season with the team and will reach the 1,000 regular-season game mark the next time he steps on the ice.

After 999 outings he had posted 400 goals and 660 assists for 1,060 points with a plus-77 rating. This included 63 game-winners and 110 power-play markers. Incredibly though, he has yet to score a shorthanded goal. When he does reach his 1,000th  game he’ll become the first player drafted in 2007 to do so.

When it comes to the playoffs, Kane has helped Chicago win three Stanley Cups in 2009-10, 2012-13 and 2014-15. He’s chipped in with 52 goals and 80 assists for 132 points in 126 postseason contests and has five overtime winners and a team-record 11 game-winners overall. His most famous came against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009/10 when his goal at 4:06 of overtime in game six gave Chicago the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.

That goal also saw Kane become the youngest NHL player to score a Stanley-Cup-winning overtime marker. He also won the 2012/13 Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP when he captured his second Stanley Cup. He then assisted on the game winner for his third championship in 2014-15.

His fast start to the current season is his best since 2015-16 when he posted 35 points in 23 games. He went on to capture the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, the Ted Lindsay Award for being the best player as voted by his peers, the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring and was named to the First All-Star Team.

The 5-foot-10-inch Kane’s play has given the Hawks a realistic chance of making the playoffs even though they’re playing with eight rookies including goaltender Kevin Lankinen. The team is also playing without its top-two centres in Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach. Kane has more or less carried the team on his back lately and might need to keep it up though if they’re going to lock up a playoff spot. He hasn’t exactly been a one-man team this season but he’s been close to it. If the team does make the postseason, Kane should certainly get some consideration for the Hart Trophy once again.

His NHL career definitely started out on the right foot as Kane won the rookie of the year award for 2007/08 when he netted 21 goals and 51 assists and made the All-Rookie Team. His 2015/16 campaign saw him become the first American-born player to win hoist the Hart Trophy and the first to lead the league in scoring when he posted 46 goals and 60 helpers. He also recorded a 26-game scoring streak that season which was the longest since 1992/93. This consisted of 16 goals and 24 assists to snap the previous club record of 21 games which was by Bobby Hull two decades earlier.

The Blackhawks didn’t really take much of a gamble when drafting taking Kane first overall as he was the Canadian Hockey League’s leading scorer and rookie of the year in 2006/07 with 62 goals and 145 points 58 outings with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. He’s lived up to his potential in the NHL and international competition with numerous individual and team honours and nobody should be surprised if he adds some more silverware to the trophy cabinet before he hangs up his skates.