Well-adjusted All-Star Kaprizov making Wild, parents proud
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kirill Kaprizov is headed to the All-Star game with a couple of special guests: his mom and dad.
His parents, able to see the Minnesota Wild left wing play in person for the first time since he entered the NHL, have found their son in a good place.
The Russia-to-U.S. transition for the Wild’s scoring leader, made more difficult by the global pandemic, has been about as smooth as the team and Kaprizov could have envisioned.
“You learn a little bit better on your own and you kind of figure things out and the interests that you have, but of course it’s always better when they’re around,” Kaprizov said through a translator after practice earlier this week.
His mother, Natalya, and his father, Oleg, met him in New York last weekend to watch the Wild face the Rangers and the Islanders, after they were relegated to watching the first 99 games of his NHL career — including the playoffs — via satellite or streaming.
When the Wild played Wednesday in Chicago, beating the Blackhawks 5-0 to improve to 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, the plan was for his parents to recover from their jet lag in Minnesota and have some home-cooked Russian food waiting for him upon his brief return.
Now they’re off to Las Vegas for All-Star weekend, with Kaprizov scheduled to take part in the breakaway event in the skills challenge on Friday before playing for the Central Division squad in the main event on Saturday.
Halfway into his second season, the slick-skating, stick-mastering 24-year-old has 19 goals and 34 assists to lead Minnesota in both categories. Linemates Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello have proven to be excellent partners.
Kaprizov is eighth in the league with 53 points, putting him on pace to speed past the franchise record (83) set by Marian Gaborik in 2007-08. He’s also on track to break the Wild’s assists record (50) held by Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2007-08).
The on-ice production has hardly been in doubt around Kaprizov, who was available to the Wild in the fifth round of the 2015 draft because of his commitment to Russia. He played six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League before coming to Minnesota.
Ensuring a comfortable existence off the ice for Kaprizov, as a non-English speaker now living thousands of miles from home in the era of virus-limited life, was a top priority for the organization.
“It’s definitely gotten a lot easier. I think that the language is a little bit easier,” Kaprizov said. “You get to learn and meet new people. I get to go to some cool places, and people start recognizing me, or you make friends. It’s been a great experience and over time it’s just gotten easier, for sure.”
Fortunately for Kaprizov, he found a welcoming group with the Wild, a team chemistry that has only grown stronger this season. Everybody loves Kaprizov, who acquired the nickname “Dollar Bill Kirill.” Following the buyouts of longtime pillars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and the appointment of defenseman Jared Spurgeon to the captaincy, the locker room has taken on more of an egalitarian atmosphere as well.
That carries over to the ice, too. As prolific and productive of a player Kaprizov can be, providing that take-over-the-game potential the roster has lacked since Gaborik’s time, the strength of the Wild lies in their depth.
The bruising second line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway can score just as much as it can defend. On the third line, Kevin Fiala currently has a career-high 12-game point streak going to match the franchise record set by Mikael Granlund in 2017. Rookie Matt Boldy has thrived with Fiala, with 10 points in his first 10 games. Fourth-line center Nico Sturm is seventh on the team with eight goals.
The Wild are third in the NHL in goals per game (3.83) and fifth in the league in points percentage (.720). With 28 wins in 41 games, they’re tied for the most points in team history at the midpoint, matching the 2016-17 season.
“I guess I never really thought of it and how quickly we’d be able to get there. We’ve got good character guys that like being here. We’re very well-coached and the guys they show up and play hard every night. That’s the main thing,” general manager Bill Guerin said, adding: “I had really high expectations for this club.”
Starting with Kaprizov.
“Obviously, things are great right now and I’m happy about that and we’re winning games and we’re playing well, but I think we can get even better,” Kaprizov said. “So I’m really excited about what we can do with this team.”