No player in Minnesota Wild history has had the build-up, the hype and the hysteria that a single fifth-round pick has generated since his selection in 2015. And even though he is yet to even take a step on the ice at Xcel Energy Center or the Tria practice rink, many in the fandom are already convinced that Kirill Kaprizov could be the piece that will take the Wild to the promised land of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Ok, maybe that’s a little excessive, but it’s not hyperbole to say that the Wild haven’t had this talented a prospect in their midst since Marian Gaborik was drafted 20 years ago.
Despite the will-he-won’t-he drama he, his agent, his league and his country (along with former Wild general managers) have put Wild fans through for the past half-decade (and despite the fact that he is yet to put a skate blade on American ice), Kirill Kaprizov’s undeniable talent and unbelievable hype makes him yet again our No. 2-rated prospect in Hockey Wilderness’ Top 25 Under 25 rankings.
For those who are new to the Wild or NHL hockey in general, a brief history lesson. Former Wild GM Chuck Fletcher took a sliding Kaprizov in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The undersized KHL-er was ranked by some scouting services as high as No. 55, but fell to the fifth-round primarily due to concerns about his 5-foot-9, 181-pound stature, as scouts were just beginning to usher in the era of the small, elusive, goal-scoring forward. I mean, Kaprizov’s selection broke a trend even for the Wild, who’s last three drafted wings prior to Kaprizov were Kurtis Gabriel, Alex Tuch and Jordan Greenway, all who were big guys who were drafted to dominate the crease and throw their weight around in the corners.
Then, there was the “Russian Factor.” Would a talented player like Kaprizov ever decide (or be allowed to decide) to come to the United States, when he could just as easily get all the money and fame he could desire playing in the KHL? Sure, a big-market team like the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers or the Los Angeles Kings could have the mass appeal and bright lights to woo a Russian star, but the Minnesota Wild? Why would he want to come from the cold plains of Novokuznetsk to a US state that might be even colder?
Well, five years, three managers and two KHL contracts later, Bill Guerin finally did what Chuck Fletcher and Paul Fenton couldn’t do, and signed Kaprizov to a deal that would ensure fans would finally see their highly-touted prospect in a Wild jersey.
If you’re trying to compare apples to apples, Kaprizov’s goals and points totals over the past five years won’t blow you away when you see that prospects like Marco Rossi and Adam Beckman each put up 100+ point seasons in their respective leagues. But numeric comparisons are moot, especially when lining up the junior-sized apples of the CHL to the fully-grown apples of the Kontinental Hockey League. And when you look at Kaprizov’s nearly a point-per-game effort over the past four KHL seasons, his 30-goal seasons and 50-60 point efforts take on a different light when his competition runs from elite juniors to professional-aged men and former NHLers.
Kaprizov has also shined at the international level, having won a gold medal with the Russian team at the 2018 Winter Olympics and finishing the tournament second in points, and won silver and bronze at two World Junior championships, leading all skaters in goals and points in the 2017 tournament.
Roll the Tape
If you’ve spent any amount of time on Hockey Wilderness since 2015, you’ve likely seen your share of Kirill Kaprizov highlights.
But here they are again, because let’s face it, we never get tired of watching them, and neither do you.
His skating, his shooting, his hands, his playmaking... blah, blah, blah. Here’s another amazing goal to watch.
by Kirill #TheShrimp Kaprizov— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) October 1, 2019
An exquisite goal from the Prince of Moscow. #MNWild pic.twitter.com/Uu1QMzer2c
ESPN’s Chris Peters recently ranked Kaprizov the top NHL-prospect in the entire league. Many other hockey draft/development experts have Kaprizov in the top 10 at least. He’s been compared to players like Vladamir Tarasenko, Artemi Panerin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. If he can be anything near those players for the Wild, he can be a game-changer.
So then why, pray tell, if Kaprizov is a all-but-guaranteed star, does he still only take spot number two on our rankings (and why did only one HW writer have him at number one when the rest had him as the concensus second choice)? Well, a lot of that has to do with the fact that Kaprizov hasn’t yet seen time in the NHL, and our top choice has. Many fans and bloggers - including many of us at HW - believe Kaprizov won’t have any trouble acclimating to the speed and skill level of the NHL. Some oddsmakers even have Kaprizov as a top-three candidate for a Calder trophy. But a player who is still learning English and has never been to the US before, much less ever play here, may have some initial bumps in the road. In the end, talent usually shines through, and there’s no reason to expect that Kaprizov won’t have a strong (if not elite) rookie season.
Beyond that, the Wild’s choice to sign Kaprizov to a two-year deal in the midst of the pandemic pause and burning the first year of his deal has the benefit of keeping him under team control until at least 2023. Ending his entry level deal after the 2021 season means that Kaprizov will still be a restricted free agent (the technical term is a 10.2(c) RFA) heading into the 2021-22 season. He can be given a qualifying offer, and can’t be offer-sheeted by another team. Kaprizov also won’t be eligible for abritration.
Should Kaprizov get off to a strong start to this season, it will surprise no one if Guerin makes giving Kaprizov a multi-year extension in the neighborhood of $8 million-plus a high priority. Even if Kap takes his time getting up to speed, with so much time and effort invested in him, even a bridge deal seems like a risky proposition. Anything you can do to keep Kap here long term is something Guerin will want to consider.
Because, as bitter Wild fans can attest, the only thing worse than waiting five years to see your star prospect is watching him leave to chase cups after four.