Well, the long and at times uncertain wait is finally over.
Just over five years after he was drafted by Minnesota with the 135th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Kirill Kaprizov is finally a member of the Minnesota Wild organization after signing a two year entry level contract with the Wild on Monday.
While it is unfortunate that he will not be eligible to play in the Stanley Cup Qualifying round against the Vancouver Canucks in early August, Kaprizov is expected to fly to Minnesota in the coming days to join the team at training camp, and then accompany them to Edmonton where he will be allowed to practice and train with the Wild, which should give him a good chance to get used to get to know his new teammates, while also getting more comfortable with his new surroundings in North America.
Either way, the most important thing is that Kaprizov is finally under contract with the Wild, and we can now start to look ahead towards the future to get a sense of just how good a player Kaprizov could actually be for Minnesota.
First off, it’s no secret just how good Kaprizov has been over the last 5 seasons as a young player in the KHL. Not only has he been a five-time KHL All-Star and ranked 6th in the KHL in scoring with 222 points in 262 games played, but he also holds three of the best U23 seasons in KHL history. All of which is very impressive, to say the least.
KHL U23 All Time Single Season Scoring Top 10
|Kirill Kaprizov||2019-2020||CSKA Moscow||57||33||29||62|
|Kirill Kaprizov||2018-2019||CSKA Moscow||57||30||21||51|
|Alexander Radulov||2008-2009||Salavat Yulaev Ufa||52||22||26||48|
|Vladimir Tarasenko||2011-2012||Sibir Novosibirsk/SKA||54||23||24||47|
|Anatoli Golyshev||2015-2016||Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg||56||25||19||44|
|Evgeny Kuznetsov||2012-2013||Traktor Chelyabinsk||51||19||25||44|
|Vadim Shipachyov||2009-2010||Severstal Cherepovets||55||14||30||44|
|Kirill Kaprizov||2016-2017||Salavat Yulaev Ufa||49||20||22||42|
|Evgeny Kuznetsov||2011-2012||Traktor Chelyabinsk||49||19||22||41|
|Artemi Panarin||2013-2014||SKA St. Petersburg||51||20||20||40|
Aside from the pure offensive production in the KHL at a young age, Kaprizov also has a very high-end and creative offensive skillset that makes him such an outstanding player.
The first thing you’ll notice when watching Kaprizov play is just how smart he is on the ice. When he has the puck on his stick, he is never panicked, even under pressure, and is easily able to hold on for another half second for a play, whether that’s a pass or a shot, to open up.
For example, in the play below, Kaprizov, with his head up and aware of his surroundings, calmly controls the puck behind the net, does as a half spin and sends a nice pass to his teammate right in the slot for a goal.
Again, it’s the high-end hockey IQ/senses that allow him to be such a creative and patient offensive player.
On the following assist, much like the previous one above, Kaprizov finds himself down by the net where he corrals a tough pass, and instead of simply firing a quick shot from the side of the net or holding onto the puck to make another play, he again demonstrates great patience, quickly pivots and spins around to send a no-look pass to a wide open teammate for a goal.
The fact that he seems to make great plays like this on a nightly basis says a lot about the kind of player he is, and how consistently great he is when the puck is on his stick.
For crying out loud, just look at this other no-look between-the-legs pass he made back in 2018.
decent pass from Kirill Kaprizov in the KHL pic.twitter.com/eLpKcr2qwg— Mike Grinnell (@MikeGrinnell_) March 29, 2018
While his skill level and creativity allow him to be a very good passer, it also lends to him having a very good shot and a knack for scoring goals. And if there is one thing aside from his overall creativity and skill level that really stands out, it’s that he is almost always right around the net in the offensive zone.
Kaprizov quite literally has a nose for the net, and as has been discussed earlier, he is almost always down by the net, working hard to win battles and putting himself in positions to score and make plays. This has led to Kaprizov being able to score in a variety of different ways. Whether it’s a quick wrist shot from below the dots or a hard-working goal in front of the net, there is almost no spot on the ice where opposing goalies can feel safe while Kaprizov possesses the puck.
While Kaprizov doesn’t have a shot as booming as players like Alex Ovechkin or Vladimir Tarasenko, it is very accurate and he is able to pick the corners and beat goalies up high from difficult angles.
Точнейший выстрел Кирилла Капризова pic.twitter.com/BVVxoZTRkb— ХК ЦСКА Москва (@hccska) February 15, 2020
In what was maybe one of the best performances of his career last fall, Kaprizov scored three goals in just under nine minutes in a game for CSKA on October 2, with each of his three goals being unique and showing just how deadly an offensive player he can be. Even when you think you have him covered, Kaprizov will find room to make a play and create offense.
Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov with the fastest hat-trick in CSKA history.— Sporting News Canada (@sportingnewsca) October 2, 2019
3⃣ goals in under 9⃣ minutes. pic.twitter.com/r9GbuUl6f7
The next part of his game, which is extremely important in today’s quicker and more up-tempo NHL, is his skating. And if there was any part of Kaprizov’s game that one could pinpoint as an area that could use some improvement, his skating would be it. The main concern is that Kaprizov isn’t an absolute elite level skater who can blow past defenders and change the game with his speed. Combine that with his shorter stature at around 5’11, some seem to believe that it could hold him back from becoming a true star player in the NHL.
With all of that said, Kaprizov is still a good skater, in fact, he is closer to having an above average skating ability than just an average one. As was discussed above, while he isn’t going to blow past defenders like some of the fastest skaters in the league, he does have the ability to do so every once in a while like he did in this sweet goal he scored in the 2019-2020 season.
Another notable thing about Kaprizov’s skating is that his edges are very good, and combining that with his ability to stop and change directions quickly gives him the ability to create space between himself and the defender. As exhibited in the following clip, after being blocked off by a defender after entering the offensive zone, he makes a quick stop and sharply cuts to the middle of the ice, demonstrating his great edges, and then rips a shot past the goaltender.
Speed up, full stop, shot, goal.— KHL (@khl_eng) January 4, 2020
His name's Kirill Kaprizov. pic.twitter.com/a2LrTiVCpb
There is no denying how incredible Kaprizov’s accomplishments at such a young age in a great league in the KHL have been. From setting all-time U23 scoring records, to winning an Olympic gold medal, five straight KHL All-Star appearances — the list goes on and on. But just how good could Kaprizov really be for the Minnesota Wild in the NHL?
While there is no guarantee that Kaprizov’s early success in the KHL and on the international stage will translate to great success in the NHL, the sheer fact the he holds several of the best U23 seasons in the history of the KHL, over players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Artemi Panarin, and Alexander Radulov, says a lot, and it indicates that Kaprizov has a chance to be a truly special player for Minnesota.
Not only does Kaprizov have the elite hockey IQ and instincts, but he also has the high end shot, playmaking ability, skating ability, physicality, and competitiveness to thrive at the NHL level. When you really get down to it, there is almost nothing to suggest that Kaprizov won’t at least be a very good top-six forward in the NHL, and with his hard-working and competitive style of play, he has the chance to improve even more as a player in the coming few seasons.
Overall, Kirill Kaprizov is an extremely talented hockey player who has the talent and style of play to be an absolute stud for Minnesota — a potential top-line offensive dynamo and the exact type of player that the Wild and its fans have been hoping for since the days of Marian Gaborik. With Kaprizov finally under contract and close to being around the team for the first time, the future of his career with the Wild is getting closer and closer, and all signs show that he should be a very important part of the team’s long-term future.
Not too bad for a fifth-round pick, eh?