NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Kirill Kaprizov has made an early impression.
Perhaps that’s an understatement; the Minnesota rookie was named the league’s first star of the week following his first three NHL contests.
A fifth round pick in 2015, the 22-year-old had a three-point game in his debut followed by an assists against the Ducks in his second game; both his goal in the first game and assist in the second surged the Wild to overtime wins.
There’s still a learning curve; his turnover against the Kings led to their third goal, and and some of his puck handling continued to give them chances on Saturday.
He erased those miscues with his feed to Marcus Johansson for the game-winner, the second Wild win.
“He’s just a very humble, hardworking kid,” Wild defender Jared Spurgeon told reporters. “He just wants to win and play hockey. You can see from his work ethic he’s not just satisfied with one game. Obviously, he’s been a big part of the two wins that we’ve had. But every day he comes in and he’s ready to work, and he works hard.”
Both of his overtime shifts on Saturday were stellar, eliminating any memories of his earlier miscues to let the Kings surge ahead in regulation.
He’s a rookie; there’s going to be mistakes, especially for a player with limited North American hockey experience. Thus far, any errors have been heavily outweighed by the energy Kaprizov has brought the Wild.
“I think those type of players, they have to learn from making those mistakes,” Ryan Suter said after he scored at the buzzer to force overtime on Saturday “It’s all right. We want those guys to score the big goals. And at the end of the day, if they turn a few over, we’ll take care of that.”
I have computed dumb RAPM for Kirill Kaprizov's game tonight taking into consideration only his 3 most common forward linemates at 5v5 pic.twitter.com/LO4L7iA0ab
— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) January 15, 2021
His scoring output shouldn’t be totally out of left field; in the KHL, Kaprizov posted 98 goals and 195 points in 209 games, and 31 points in 47 games.
It’s not the NHL, but that’s still a tough league for young players. He also put up nine points in the 2018 Olympics and has time and time again stepped up on the toughest stages.
“For me, it’s really about coming to the rink, playing my hardest every single game and expecting the same of my teammates, and if everyone comes to the rink and plays their heart out and gives 110 percent and we win at the end, I think that’s all that matters,” Kaprizov told reporters last week. “All of the personal points and accolades, that comes second to me. First and foremost is the team.”
Minnesota moved Kaprizov to their second power play unit — they’re 0-for-16 on the man-up thus far — for Nick Bonino after spending time on the first, a unit that’s included four forwards. As that unit finds its footing, there’s a good chance the rookie will spend more time on the man advantage.
The Wild have had scoring issues over the years; last season, they were 15th in the league in goals. The year before that, 27th. They’re going to be thrilled to have a spark, especially one they invested for — and, traded for his draft pick rights — and are finally seeing pay off at the NHL level.
It’s only been a handful of games, and this season is going to be weird and condensed and grueling. But Kaprizov isn’t an ordinary rookie in the sense he’s coming from a college or a junior schedule. He’s played pro hockey, and might be the most equipped of any rookie to handle a season like this, no matter what role the Wild put him in.