MINNEAPOLIS - It didn’t take the Minnesota Wild long to realize what they had in speed and skill when it comes to Kirill Kaprizov. In fact, it was after one full practice.
It may have been a simple drill during training camp, but Kaprizov skated around captain Jared Spurgeon like he was stuck in sand. In other sequence, he made Ryan Suter look like a statue. In his NHL debut, Kaprizov had two assists and scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
He’s 19 games into his rookie season, and the Russian star leads the Wild with 17 points. He’s tied for second on the team with six goals, second with 11 assists and leads NHL rookies in points. Wild coach Dean Evason knew the talent they were getting. He’s been more impressed by how the rookie has been with his teammates, despite rough English.
"Clearly he has a skillset that’s going to allow him to have success. His ability to interact with his teammates and be a real good teammate on and off the ice, that’s what’s been really exciting for us as a coaching staff and an organization," Evason said.
Kaprizov is already a star among his teammates and if you ask Wild fans. He’s had enough of an impact on his new teammates that they made "Dollar Bill Kirill" shirts after his fast start.
"I thought it was very cool, it was unexpected. I heard about some of the guys were talking about potentially making a shirt. I walked into the locker room and everyone was wearing them, of course it makes you feel good and a little shy even. But I liked it and it’s very cool," Kaprizov said Tuesday through a translator.
The Wild is 6-2 in its last eight games since returning from a near two-week pause due to COVID-19 issues. During the six-game win streak, Kaprizov had eight points, including three goals.
He was named the NHL’s First Start of the Week after the Wild opened with a pair of overtime wins over the L.A. Kings. He had the primary assist on Marcus Johansson’s game-winner, two days after scoring his first goal. Kaprizov says he’s not paying attention to the hype.
"I don’t think about it. I didn’t go into the season having any expectations or any thoughts or goals. I just wanted to play my best and if I play my best and I make my teammates better, my teammates will play their best and things will work themselves out," Kaprizov said. "I just go out there and do my job, do it as best as I can and let everything take care of itself. No expectations."
So does he prefer the nickname "Dollar Bill Kirill" or "Kirill the Thrill?"
"Between these two, I’m really indifferent. I like them both, I’ll let the fans decide that," Kaprizov said with a laugh.
We’re only 19 games into the season and there will be rough nights, but it appears the Wild have found their first legitimate star player since Marian Gaborik. The scary part is Kaprizov is just scratching the surface.
It’s already been a smooth transition to NHL hockey, and getting on the score sheet and scoring game-winning goals can help get one comfortable early. Kaprizov says he’s just focused on making the right play in the moment. He’s been told by his own father, past coaches and Evason he needs to shoot more.
He intends to do just that.
"At the end of the day, I just try to make the right play on the ice. I give you my word, I’ll try to shoot more and score more goals," Kaprizov said. "You just play the game and you play it as hard as you can."