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Despite Calder frontrunner status, Kaprizov still looking to improve

Rookie forward has scored goals in five consecutive games

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

The buzz around Kirill Kaprizov's rookie season in the NHL has been building for months. 

For weeks, Kaprizov was viewed as the clear favorite to take home the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie, until recently, when Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars has ramped up his outstanding season.

Some believed the race for the Calder had become a two-horse race. And while it may still very well be that, Kaprizov's play the last week has gone to another level.

The Wild's rookie forward has tallied at least one goal in five consecutive games, a franchise record for a rookie. That red-hot stretch of goal scoring has helped Minnesota rattle off seven consecutive victories overall and on Saturday night, the Wild became the third team in the NHL to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Whether it's Kaprizov's easy-going nature or his refusal to put the focus on himself, he says he doesn't spend much time thinking about the Calder ... or much of anything, other than helping the Wild continue to win hockey games.

Still, with his presence on social media, he admitted it's impossible not to, at the very least, hear about some of the chatter.

Video: Catching up with Kirill Kaprizov

"I'm constantly getting messages. I see it everywhere. It's hard not to notice it," Kaprizov said on Tuesday through a translator. "Personally I don't really think about it too much. I don't stress about it. Obviously it's always great to win something but for me personally the team performance is first and any personal accolades come after that."

That's also not to say that Robertson's recent stretch of play hasn't planted a little bit of a seed in the back of Kaprizov's mind.

"You do see it and of course, seeing another opponent there, it helps motivate you. It makes you want to do better and that's as any competitor would. But other than that, I don't focus or think about it to be honest.

"For the reporters, it's probably quite a bit of clickbait to get the ratings up, but for me personally, I really don't think about it much."

Video: MIN@LAK: Kaprizov scores an incredible opening goal

Can't fault the kid for his cynical view of American media. But with all due respect to Kaprizov, he's earned his place among the League's top rookies, and may even be nosing his way into the Hart Trophy conversation as the NHL's Most Valuable Player.

Kaprizov certainly isn't going to be chasing down Connor McDavid for the League's scoring title, at least not this season, but it's hard to ignore the seismic impact Kaprizov has had on the Wild's fortunes.

His team-leading 22 goals are four more than any other rookie in team history, a feat he's accomplished in almost half as many games. Those 22 goals currently rank inside the top-10 in the NHL, tied with Winnipeg's Kyle Connor, Vegas' Max Pacioretty and Florida's Alex Barkov for ninth-most. 

Video: MIN@SJS: Kaprizov buries Fiala's feed for PPG

Minnesota's 31 victories are tied with Colorado, Carolina, Florida and Washington for fourth-most in the NHL, entering the day on Tuesday.

is there any doubt that Minnesota would be where it is if not for Kaprizov?

"He was so good right at game one, but we've definitely seen areas of improvement away from the puck," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "But his skillset and his awareness offensively is as high as it gets.

"He works at it. Clearly, he works on his offensive game, and he's got God-given talent in that area, but he is committed to playing hard defensively when presented. We've seen growth in that area for sure."

Video: MIN@ARI: Kaprizov nets nifty wraparound goal

Kaprizov, who quietly celebrated his 24th birthday at home on Monday, holds himself to a high standard in that regard.

Asked where he feels he'd like to improve his game most, Kaprizov wasn't shy about where he feels he needs to get better.

"To be honest, all aspects of my game, defensively, offensively, every aspect of the game," Kaprizov said. "If you ask any player, there's always room for improvement in every aspect. The same applies to me. Every aspect of my game needs to be improved. You just have to work hard and continue to get better and hopefully everything works out."

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