‘Dollar Dollar Bill’ Kirill Kaprizov has been money for Wild

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild. Golden Knights-Wild stream coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There were no surprises in Kirill Kaprizov’s game when he arrived in North America. The Wild coaching staff had watched enough tape on the Russian winger that they understood a special player was joining them.

Once he hit the ice, his teammates got their first views of the uber-talented 23-year-old. His skating ability, his stick handling, his tenacity for the puck — it was all there. Kaprizov is a player the franchise has desired. Through 23 games he’s been the spark that’s ignited a Wild team that desperately needed an injection of life. 

Kaprizov isn’t your typical NHL rookie. He played in the KHL since 2014, so going up against other professionals — stronger professionals — is something he was used to it. That’s why he did not look overwhelmed in his early days in the NHL. He made his mark immediately with a three-point night, including the overtime winner, in the Wild’s opener against the Kings.

“Honestly from the first game we saw that. Just his ability to escape from people and his confidence to try to make plays,” said Wild head coach Dean Evason. “We talked before about him playing pro hockey and he’s played against men for awhile now. It wasn’t a shock to him to get pushed on, leaned on by men, and heavier men. His separation from people is clearly special. Combine that with his attitude, his team-first mentality, it’s exciting for us as an organization.”

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Through two months, Kaprizov is the Calder Trophy front-runner, leading the Wild and all NHL rookies in scoring with six goals, 19 points and incredible edge work.

“We [knew] as an organization that we were getting a special player. There was no secret there. So we were excited to see him play,” Evason said. “We’ve all watched tape on him and watched his abilities last year. He hasn’t disappointed and, yes he’s put up numbers, but if you watch him on a day-to-day basis with his teammates and how he is team-first, how he’s as excited about somebody else scoring a goal or somebody else making a play as he is, that’s what really resonates with us and with his teammates as well.”

Kaprizov has fit in on and off the ice for the Wild. He’s endeared himself to his teammates, so much so that Matt Dumba’s nickname for him — “Dollar Dollar Bill Kirill” — was turned into a t-shirt.

“I thought it was very cool. It was unexpected,” Kaprizov said last week through a translator. “I heard some of the guys were talking about potentially making a shirt and I walked in the locker room and everyone was wearing them. Of course it makes you feel good and a little shy even. I liked it. It was very cool.”

The transition to living in a new country has gone well for Kaprizov, even through the team’s extended COVID break last month. The mix of games and practices has helped him acclimate and develop chemistry with his teammates. The communication skills are also coming along nicely and there are fewer confusing situations.

[NHL Power Rankings: Fleury, Stone drive Golden Knights to top]

His talent is on display nightly, and his contributions, along with those of Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Foligno, and Jordan Greenway up front, have helped power the Wild into third place in the West Division.

Kaprizov credited that first NHL goal to helping him settle down and gaining confidence to show he belongs.

While the highlight-reel goals stand out, Kaprizov’s 13 assists show he’s also a strong playmaker. His skating lets him escape hairy situations, allowing him to create scoring numerous chances.

Shooting, however, is something we should plan on seeing more out of Kaprizov. Through 23 games he has 47 shots on goal. That 2.04 shots per game average should be rising in the coming weeks, as long as he keeps his promise.

“For me personally, I think there’s a balance between shooting and passing. And at the end of the day, I just try to make the right play on the ice,” he said. “But I have been told in the past by my father and by previous coaches to shoot a little bit more and I personally, I would like to try and shoot a little more. Sometimes I can make an extra pass.

“But I give you my word, I’ll try and shoot more so I can score more goals.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.