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.

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