After nearly a year of speculation and trades almost going through, Jason Zucker was finally traded by the Minnesota Wild on February 10.
In return, the Wild received a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick, prospect Calen Addison, and Alex Galchenyuk from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Obviously, the focus of the deal for Minnesota were the future assets they acquired, and while there is a chance Galchenyuk could contribute something to the team now, it seems just as possible that Galchenyuk, an unrestricted free agent after this season, could sign elsewhere over the summer.
So, with all that in mind, let’s look into what this move could mean for current Wild prospect and KHL star Kirill Kaprizov. As many Wild fans are likely aware, Kaprizov’s KHL contract expires on April 30, and after that he will be eligible to sign a two-year entry-level contract with Minnesota. Right now, all indications are that Kaprizov will sign with the Wild at that time.
So that begs two questions. Where will Kaprizov play, and how will he fit into the Wild’s lineup?
There has already been some speculation on this, and it has been thought for some time now that Wild General Manager Bill Guerin would have to move a winger off of this team to make room for Kaprizov, which he has now done by trading Zucker. While Guerin did acquire Alex Galchenyuk in the trade (who is also a winger), it seems that Galchenyuk was included in the deal to even out the salaries, and it’s not guaranteed that the former 30-goal scorer will remain in Minnesota beyond the 2019-20 season.
So, assuming Galchenyuk is no longer with the team to start the 2020-21 season, that would leave a spot open in the top two lines for Kaprizov to slide into when he arrives in North America.
Kaprizov will likely start as a left winger with the Wild, partially due to how well Kevin Fiala has played on the right side, and with Mats Zuccarello being a natural right winger. However, he is also very familiar with playing the right side. Despite often working on the right side of the ice, playing on the left wing shouldn’t be an issue for Kaprizov. Plenty of the NHL’s best wingers (Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Voracek are notable examples) have had no issue making the transition to playing on their off-hand. Regardless, it seems likely that Minnesota will do whatever they can to find a good spot for Kaprizov in their lineup, and they started that process with the trade of Zucker to Pittsburgh.
While Guerin certainly didn't make this trade based on his want to create room for the young Russian forward next season, fans can bet that it was at least on his mind. After all, it is another step toward Kaprizov's much-awaited arrival in Minnesota.