Well-adjusted All-Star Kaprizov making Wild, parents proud

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kirill Kaprizov is headed to the All-Star game with a couple of special guests: his mom and dad.

His parents, able to see the Minnesota Wild left wing play in person for the first time since he entered the NHL, have found their son in a good place.

The Russia-to-U.S. transition for the Wild’s scoring leader, made more difficult by the global pandemic, has been about as smooth as the team and Kaprizov could have envisioned.

“You learn a little bit better on your own and you kind of figure things out and the interests that you have, but of course it’s always better when they’re around,” Kaprizov said through a translator after practice earlier this week.

His mother, Natalya, and his father, Oleg, met him in New York last weekend to watch the Wild face the Rangers and the Islanders, after they were relegated to watching the first 99 games of his NHL career — including the playoffs — via satellite or streaming.

When the Wild played Wednesday in Chicago, beating the Blackhawks 5-0 to improve to 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, the plan was for his parents to recover from their jet lag in Minnesota and have some home-cooked Russian food waiting for him upon his brief return.

Now they’re off to Las Vegas for All-Star weekend, with Kaprizov scheduled to take part in the breakaway event in the skills challenge on Friday before playing for the Central Division squad in the main event on Saturday.

Halfway into his second season, the slick-skating, stick-mastering 24-year-old has 19 goals and 34 assists to lead Minnesota in both categories. Linemates Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello have proven to be excellent partners.

Kaprizov is eighth in the league with 53 points, putting him on pace to speed past the franchise record (83) set by Marian Gaborik in 2007-08. He’s also on track to break the Wild’s assists record (50) held by Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2007-08).

The on-ice production has hardly been in doubt around Kaprizov, who was available to the Wild in the fifth round of the 2015 draft because of his commitment to Russia. He played six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League before coming to Minnesota.

Ensuring a comfortable existence off the ice for Kaprizov, as a non-English speaker now living thousands of miles from home in the era of virus-limited life, was a top priority for the organization.

“It’s definitely gotten a lot easier. I think that the language is a little bit easier,” Kaprizov said. “You get to learn and meet new people. I get to go to some cool places, and people start recognizing me, or you make friends. It’s been a great experience and over time it’s just gotten easier, for sure.”

Fortunately for Kaprizov, he found a welcoming group with the Wild, a team chemistry that has only grown stronger this season. Everybody loves Kaprizov, who acquired the nickname “Dollar Bill Kirill.” Following the buyouts of longtime pillars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and the appointment of defenseman Jared Spurgeon to the captaincy, the locker room has taken on more of an egalitarian atmosphere as well.

That carries over to the ice, too. As prolific and productive of a player Kaprizov can be, providing that take-over-the-game potential the roster has lacked since Gaborik’s time, the strength of the Wild lies in their depth.

The bruising second line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway can score just as much as it can defend. On the third line, Kevin Fiala currently has a career-high 12-game point streak going to match the franchise record set by Mikael Granlund in 2017. Rookie Matt Boldy has thrived with Fiala, with 10 points in his first 10 games. Fourth-line center Nico Sturm is seventh on the team with eight goals.

The Wild are third in the NHL in goals per game (3.83) and fifth in the league in points percentage (.720). With 28 wins in 41 games, they’re tied for the most points in team history at the midpoint, matching the 2016-17 season.

“I guess I never really thought of it and how quickly we’d be able to get there. We’ve got good character guys that like being here. We’re very well-coached and the guys they show up and play hard every night. That’s the main thing,” general manager Bill Guerin said, adding: “I had really high expectations for this club.”

Starting with Kaprizov.

“Obviously, things are great right now and I’m happy about that and we’re winning games and we’re playing well, but I think we can get even better,” Kaprizov said. “So I’m really excited about what we can do with this team.”

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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”