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Kaprizov remains on track to make a big impact in Minnesota

Prized Russian prospect could play for the Wild as soon as 2020-21 season

by Aaron Vickers / Special to Wild.com

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- Kirill Kaprizov won't be making his way to the National Hockey League next season. But it's not a lack of skill that will keep the Minnesota Wild prospect away another season. It's not readiness either.

At least, not according to teammates at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia.

"He's got everything to be a top player in the league," said Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov. "It's just about the timing. He's going to come and their coaches are going to handle the situation and where he's going to play and what kind of role he plays in."

Kuznetsov understands that better than most.

He was selected in the first round (No. 26) of the 2010 NHL Draft, but played an additional four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) before making his way to North America to join the Capitals just prior to his 22nd birthday.

Tweet from @khl_eng: Hats are flying when Kirill Kaprizov's on 🔥 pic.twitter.com/WkSpoqiT6T

Kaprizov, selected in the fifth round (No. 135) by the Wild in the 2015 draft, has taken -- to this point -- a similar approach. Like Kuznetsov, the 22-year old Kaprizov has continued his development both in the KHL and with Russia on the international stage.

The approach has been fruitful to this point.

"He's extremely skilled," said New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, teammates with Kaprizov in Russia's quest to land gold at the World Championship for the first time since 2014. "The first practice with the National team he looked like a really skilled, NHL-level player.

"He's a great guy, also. I played with him at the World Juniors. I think he has a bright, bright future in front of him." 

Kaprizov's resume suggests the same.

Tweet from @khl_eng: 'It's a good sign, when you have a guy named Kaprizov in your team'.#GagarinCup pic.twitter.com/A8L3HtWUP8

This season, he paced the KHL in goals (30) and game-winning goals (11), and was 11th in league scoring with 51 points. He also participated in the KHL All-Star Game and eventually went on to claim the Gagarin Cup as KHL champion.

It built on a season that saw him help the Olympic Athletes from Russia win Olympic gold just 14 months ago, chipping in nine points (five goals, four assists) in six games despite being the youngest player on the roster.

Just 13 months prior, Kaprizov paced the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship with nine goals and 12 points, earning the 5-foot-10, 192-pound winger a plethora of nods, including being named top forward, a top-three player on his team, a tournament all-star appearance and, of course, a bronze medal.

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"He's a great player, obviously," Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. "He's still going to show his skill and how he can play. He's a nice guy and always respects the older players.

"He's still pretty young."

Young, but not inexperienced. And his skill, despite his age, doesn't go unnoticed.

"He's definitely a hell of a player," said Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, himself now an Art Ross Trophy winner and Hart Trophy candidate after pacing the NHL in scoring this season with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) -- the most by any player since 1995-96. "A lot of skill. [I'm] looking forward to him to see what he does in the NHL."

Many do. But it'll take a bit more patience.

Kaprizov remains under contract in Russia until 2020.

After that?

"He's one of the greatest young players," Kuznetsov said. "It's not easy to play on this level but he's handled the pressure pretty well. I hope he's going to stay healthy the next couple years and he can come to the NHL more mature, more physical style.

"He'll be great for Minnesota, for sure."


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