The only thing that is starting slower than most Minnesota Wild games, is the season of their star player.
Kirill Kaprizov certainly has some counting stats to back up his franchise record-setting contract signed this summer — the 24-year-old has earned five assists in the first five games — but there is just something not quite right with his game right now. Whether it’s holding on to the puck for too long, trying to make the low-percentage play, or just being seemingly trapped among the opposition’s biggest blueliners; Kaprizov has just not appeared to be the same star that earned the Calder Trophy last season.
“He’s getting special attention and when you try to do too much and try to do something extra to try to beat somebody, it doesn’t go well because not only one guy is concentrating on you — all five guys on the ice are watching for him,” said Wild head coach Dean Evason, who also mentioned that he had a chat with Kaprizov before the loss to the Nashville Predators on Sunday. “So, if you try to beat people 1-on-1, it usually turns over. Or try to make a softer play, it turns over.
“He’s a gritty guy. He’ll figure it out.”
It certainly doesn’t help that the Wild have started their season against some tough defensive opponents. Whether it’s the veteran forwards and stout blue line of the Anaheim Ducks, the typical Los Angeles Kings suffocation, or the Norris-caliber defensive group in Nashville; the Wild have just not been able to figure out clean entries and to start a game on the right foot. All five games Minnesota has allowed the first goal, which is not ideal.
The one team that Kaprizov did look certainly his best against was the Winnipeg Jets and it’s not a coincidence that they do have some slow-footed players on defense. Maybe all he needs is to get his confidence back against a very bad team — like the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
“You could ask him, too, and I bet he says the exact same thing (that he’s pressing),” Evason said. “I know he recognizes it. He’s trying to do too much. He’s got a lot going on and everything and trying to do too much.”
When asked what specifically Kirill can do to reach that next level like he normally does, the coach has some clear Coach Language for the player.
“Just simplify. One hundred percent just simplify,” Evason said. “We know he can get in on a forecheck and he can finish his check. That’s what he’s got to do first and then worry about the pretty passes and the pretty plays after.”
The Wild are simply squeaking by opponents and have only somewhat earned their 4-1-0 start to the season — so it is fairly quintessential for Kaprizov to start going. And he will get his chance against the malignant defenses in the next few games like the Canucks, Seattle Kraken, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Arizona Coyotes, who will all be facing Minnesota in the next couple weeks.