Kirill Kaprizov has been everything that we hoped for and more. The Minnesota Wild star has, in just two short seasons, shoved his way to being considered one of the best players on the planet and among the elite in the NHL.
Almost every single minute he is out there on the ice, he provides a stark contrast to the grinding play of the team. And it might just be his skating style and unique way he bursts through defenses with the immense control of his acceleration, but it becomes pretty damn clear how those moves can produce goals for his team. He showed exactly that in Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.
it all started with Kaprizov stripping the puck from Parayko to keep possession on the powerplay. and then, he scored. pic.twitter.com/EFMLdiXkJk— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 11, 2022
We can go on and on about just how dominant he has become right in front of our eyes. Even in just this first-round series, he has been able to break franchise records, scoring seven goals so far, which is the most a Wild player has every done in one single round. Those seven goals account for over 40 percent of Minnesota’s entire production of 17 goals in the six games played against St. Louis. Kaprizov is just the ninth player since 2005 to score that many goals in a single playoff series. It’s remarkable how much he has been able to do and just how little the rest of the forwards have contributed.
When one player is doing so much and seems to be one of the only players that can actually put the puck over the opposing goal line, you have to ask a lot more questions.
And obviously, Kaprizov himself put the onus on the team to just be winning games, and not to make it all about the individual.
“The goal isn’t for a player to play well,” Kaprizov said through a translator after Game 6. “The goal is for the team to play well, and we didn’t win.”
In the selfless sort of way, Kirill has been able to simply pick up the slack from the rest of the team for the entire series. Of course, the offense runs through the Russian, but when no one seems to really be able to do anything in the offensive zone, then it gets placed on the shoulders of Kaprizov and any playoff team should not be so damn reliant on one player. Even Connor McDavid has a sidekick and they are barely able to stay afloat.
Now, of course, the Wild do have Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Fiala (for now), Matt Boldy, and the other pile of two-way forwards that try to provide offense in the form of defense first. It has been enough through the regular season to put up historic numbers and literally score the fifth-most goals among all 32 teams in those 82 games, but the offense has dried up against a tougher opponent than the average of what they had to play against. It’s that next step of being able to create offense against any defense that the Wild are missing and it has become increasingly obvious over the last six games that this team is still in its transitional phase.
The next step is a difficult one. It’s a balance between understanding that this team is going to be in Cap Hell for the next four years because of the necessary buyouts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, but also being excited that they current have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. That’s some cheap talent that they can pull from and it might still mean an upward trajectory. Yes, the Wild are most likely going to be trading Kevin Fiala this summer — but it could be for a cheaper replacement that could somewhat adequately flourish under Dean Evason and give them enough of a new look for longer than Fiala was going to stay here. The options are endless and there will be so many conversations to be had, so that is a different topic to focus on when we’re actually in the offseason.
Simply put, the Wild have been able to find diamonds in the rough of free agency with Ryan Hartman and Frederick Gaudreau, to play in the perfect situation with the perfect players to have career years. But, ultimately, you can only go so far when you’re playing with underrated and the castaways. The next step is getting truly good players that aren’t just have a single season of greatness, but have established themselves as among the best. They have one of those, at least.
There are so many possibilities this summer and GM Bill Guerin has another set of months to answer a lot of questions and to figure out this roster even more. It is just clear that unless there is another dynamic player added to the lineup, or just more of a focus on getting known players rather than opting for the cheap and pesky forwards that can overperform in Evason’s system.
It will be a tough few months, but the Wild just can’t look at Kaprizov and hope for him to do everything.
Maybe this will be more expanded on this summer, but right now, just one game away from playoff elimination, there isn’t much hope to have, unless the other players can bolster Kaprizov’s existing production.