‘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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