ST PAUL, Minn. — With his first NHL regular season in the books, it’s safe to say Kirill “The Thrill” is the real deal.
In his NHL debut, Russian phenom Kirill Kaprisov had two assists and scored the game-winner in overtime to set the tone for a team that would eventually find its way back into the playoffs.
The Wild have been in this situation plenty of times – qualifying for the postseason in eight of their past nine seasons – but having a clutch, go-to scorer is something Minnesota has lacked since drafting Marian Gaborik with the No. 3 overall pick way back in the 2000 NHL Draft. Even then, Gaborik didn’t light the lamp as often as a rookie.
Kaprizov set franchise rookie records for goals scored (27), assists (24) and points (51), and he’s done it all in a shortened season.
“Overall, of course I’m happy, but I think there’s a lot that I need to improve on,” said Kaprizov. “I need to continue to get better. The season hasn’t been all that great – I’ve had some down days. Overall, it’s been good, but I definitely need to continue to improve in all aspects of my game.”
Kaprizov’s determination to get better is one of his biggest assets, and he doesn’t even need a patch of ice to hone his craft. Jared Spurgeon’s wife Danielle posted a video of Kaprizov playing floor hockey with their kids.
“Obviously, I wasn’t here for Gaborik, but (Kaprizov's) a special player,” reflects Wild head coach Dean Evason. “Competes his butt off. There’s not too many nights that he goes silent and you don’t see him. He’s usually involved.”
Kaprizov joined the Wild this year after spending six seasons in Russia playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the top-level league in the country. His prowess was apparent at a young age, making his KHL debut as a teen. Kaprisov represented Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and despite being the youngest player on their roster he notched five goals and four assists to help lead Team Russia to a Gold Medal.
Kaprizov went on to tally 30 or more goals in each of his last two seasons in the KHL, prompting plenty of questions about whether he would ever step foot in Minnesota due to overwhelming success in his home country. But when he finally arrived, he made it abundantly clear to teammates and fans that it was well worth the wait.
“Players like that are very special, and they don’t come around too often,” said Wild goalie Cam Talbot earlier this season, after Kaprizov recorded his first career hat trick. “Having a guy like him on your team – in a 0-0 game – you always feel like you have a chance, for sure.”
“To do what he’s doing, but still care as much as he does about what’s going on around him – the team aspect – it’s refreshing and it’s exciting for us coaches,” said Evason.
Kaprizov recorded his first career postseason point against Las Vegas Thursday with an assist on the game's first goal. He'd been held off the scoresheet for the first two games of the division series against the Golden Knights, but it hasn't taken much to get the rookie jumpstarted this season.
The Wild could certainly use Kaprisov's puck creativity and scoring, as they trail the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 in the series, with Game 4 slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center.