In this year's draft, the Wild did something they hadn't done since 2003; they drafted a Russian. They traded up to pick 135th in the 5th round and selected Kirill Kaprizov, the former #1 overall pick in the KHL draft.
Kaprizov is a 5'10, 181 lb left wing about to start his age 18 season in the KHL with Metallurg Novokuznetsk. The Wild picking him in the 5th round received some nods of approval around the internet at the time and some were surprised by how far he fell before being picked. Future Considerations had him ranked #55 and NHL Central Scouting had him at #29 among European skaters (the 3rd highest ranked LW). This doesn't mean a whole lot, other than the kid has some admirers around the hockey world.
Personally, I think using a late round pick to take a flier on an undersized but skilled player who could have a high ceiling is a smart strategy rather than making a "safe" pick with a guy who is likely to become a bottom of the roster player at best.
Here are some scouting reports on him to add some more perspective:
A skilled two-way winger...skates well with a short effective stride...has good quickness and is elusive when he has the puck...can make slick plays with the puck and creative passes...impressive vision...has an accurate shot with goal scorers instincts...needs to add strength...despite his size he is willing to throw checks and go into gritty areas...hard on the forecheck and uses an active stick to disrupt his opponent...defensively responsible...impressive play to date in the KHL.
The 115th ranked player by ISS, Kaprizov was another standout at the Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament as he scored seven points (five goals) in four games to lead Team Russia. The Wild scouts there saw, in Brent Flahr's words, "a very smart player." Kaprizov is an excellent skater who reads play well. He has a quick release and can pass creatively. In all, he is a small player at this stage of his career, but one with professional experience. With Metallurg Novokuznetzk of the KHL, Kaprizov played 31 games and scored eight points. All four of his goals came at even strength. Only averaging around eleven minutes a game, Kaprizov still managed a nice combination of production and defensive value. Five or six minutes more per game in his second season does not seem like much of a stretch, and Kaprizov should see his stat line ticking upward.
A smallish forward with soft hands and good wheels, Kaprizov showed that he can play pro hockey, although he still needs to progress and improve in many areas of the game. His size isn't the greatest, either, so at this point, in spite of his great skills and good hockey sense, he is still a long shot. That being said, he has the potential to become a scoring line player in the NHL, considering his offensive awareness, scoring touch and nose for the net..
For further perspective, here are some interesting Tweets about him:
A: He has as many points as Kuznetsov, Kucherov, Nichushkin & Buchnevich in the KHL at 17. Q: Who is Kirill Kaprizov? http://t.co/KFxalVLGTS— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) March 16, 2015
@MoneyPuck_ I've liked him when I've seen him play. Real prospect. Offense doesn't blow you away like #'s suggest though.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) March 16, 2015
Kirill Kaprizov may be small, but his draft-1 season has a very interesting cohort... Mr. Nikita Kucherov.— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) May 24, 2015
KHL Stats, Age 17: Evgeny Kuznetsov: 35GP 2G-6A Valeri Nichushkin: 18GP 4G-2A #mnwild 5th-rounder Kirill Kaprizov: 31GP 4G-4A— The Narrative Slayer (@TonyWiseau) June 28, 2015
There's no guarantee that Kaprizov pans out as a prospect or ever makes it to the show, but in what is a fairly weak Wild forwards prospect group once you get beyond the headliners, I think he has a strong chance to rise above some of the others over the next year or two as he continues to gain pro experience playing in the KHL. Remember, he is only 18 years old. Assuming he stays in the Wild system, he won't become ineligible for the Top 25 Under 25 until 2022, just to give you an idea of how much time he has to develop.
There's just something really intriguing about a player described as a "typical Russian goalscoring wing" when your favourite team's prospect pool is lacking in, shall we say, "spark". All reports suggest he has the basic tools to succeed at NHL level but is underrated because of his size. If he can work on becoming stronger so he is harder to knock off the puck and develop his awareness and hockey IQ to get out of trouble easier then he will have a chance to overcome his lack of size and survive on North American ice.
I'll be following his progress in the KHL next season very closely to see if Chuck Fletcher has got himself another late round steal and to see if I'll be able to feel nice and smug next Summer for being so high on him this year.
Stay tuned for the next few weeks as we count down this year's Hockey Wilderness Top 25 Under 25 all the way to #1. Don't forget to share on Facebook/Twitter and leave a comment below with your thoughts.