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Kaprizov's rookie season smashed Wild's tempered expectations

Three-point game on Opening Night set the tone for one of the finest individual seasons in franchise history

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Wild General Manager Bill Guerin did his very best to temper the expectations for forward Kirill Kaprizov ahead of his rookie season and first in North America.

The NHL is, after all, the best league in the world. And for a 24-year-old to make a big impact, in a new country - with everything that entails - and in the middle of a pandemic, it was a reasonable stance for Guerin to take.

It took Kaprizov less than 65 minutes of game time to blow those hopes for tempered expectations completely out of the water. 

After posting three points in the NHL debut, including the winning goal on a breakaway in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings, Kaprizov didn't slow down during the Wild's 56-game regular season, leading the club in goals and points, while smashing the team's rookie records in those categories. 

In doing so, Kaprizov was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, and it'd be shocking if he didn't become the second man in franchise history to win a voted-on leaguewide award, joining Jacques Lemaire, who won the Jack Adams Award in 2003.

But if you're looking for Kaprizov to pat himself on the back after one of the most impactful single seasons - for any player - in franchise history, you're going to be waiting awhile.

It's simply not Kaprizov's style. And it's one of the things that has endeared him - despite language and cultural barriers - so quickly to his teammates and coaches.

Video: Season Wrap Up: Kirill Kaprizov

"I'm not really one to compliment myself. I'll let others do that," Kaprizov said through a translator last week. "To me, I think first and foremost, we came out early from the playoffs, so that's something that is obviously tough.

"I'm the type of person that doesn't really look for personal accolades. I'd much rather have the team win and have the team do better than my own personal gains."

Because Kaprizov is still feeling his way around the language barrier - Guerin insists he speaks better English than he lets on - it's been up to coach Dean Evason and teammates to talk about Kaprizov's exploits on the ice, something they did a lot during the 2021 season. 

But because Kaprizov showed himself to be such a good teammate, those sessions rarely - if ever - became uncomfortable. 

Video: Catch Up with Kirill: Playoffs Edition

"I think just dealing with him, he's a lot like we're trying to build here with the franchise," Evason said. "It's great to get recognized but his ultimate goal is to win and win a Stanley Cup. He says all the right things and does all the right things. I'm not surprised that he's extremely humble with that. That's what our group has tried to instill and we've made steps with that this year."

Perhaps nobody was more laser focused on hockey this season than Kaprizov, partly because he loves the game, but also because, quite frankly, he had no choice. 

After arriving last fall, COVID-19 restrictions really limited Kaprizov's ability to get out of the house and explore all the Twin Cities and the State of Hockey has to offer. 

Most days, Kaprizov was commuting between his condo in downtown Minneapolis and Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. And that was about it, save for a trip to the grocery store for some essentials.

Video: Becoming Wild: Kirill Kaprizov

"[Adjusting to the U.S.] was definitely more difficult off the ice," Kaprizov said. "On the ice, things took care of themselves. I had good teammates, good conversations, loved being in the locker room, loved being on the ice. So I would say definitely off the ice was more challenging.

"I would just say little things here and there, like getting things ready for the house. Coming over, I didn't really speak much English, so just the small day to day things - getting things for the house, going grocery shopping - seemed to be more challenging, especially coming over and not being able to speak the language."

In terms of what Kaprizov is hoping for in terms of a second season, that work will begin after he traveled back home to Russia last week, his first opportunity since arriving in the United States to visit with family and friends. 

But he insists he doesn't have any single thing in mind when it comes to improving. He wants to get better in all facets.

Video: ARI@MIN: Kaprizov scores 3 in the third for hat trick

"I think anytime you're going into the offseason, there's always things to work on offensively, better skating, just thinking through different plays and scenarios," Kaprizov said. "But, overall, just trying to get better in every aspect of my game, get with my coaches and figure out where I really need to tighten things up."

Before Kaprizov's sophomore season commences, however, there is business to accomplish first. He's a restricted free agent this offseason, which means the Wild will need to ink its new star to a brand new contract. 

Whether that is a shorter, bridge deal in the three to -four year range, or a long-term seven or eight-year pact is what Guerin and Kaprizov's agent, Paul Theofanous, must figure out - and figure out soon.

Signing Kaprizov, along with fellow restricted free agents Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek, is Guerin's top offseason priority. Together, the three could eat up a fair chunk of the Wild's projected $22 million in salary cap space.

But that is also a fair chunk of the team's young core as well.

Video: Best highlights of Kirill Kaprizov's season thus far

"I mean, we'd prefer a longer deal [with Kirill]. There's two sides to the coin. You have to be open minded," Guerin said. "It's a process, so there's some going back and forth and things like that. Look, we love Kirill, I don't think there's any secret there, and what he's brought to our team. We will do what we can to get a fair deal."

Kaprizov said his first impressions of Minnesota and the Wild organization have been nothing but positive, and that he sees himself here for the long-term. 

That's certainly good news for Wild fans that awaited Kaprizov's arrival for five seasons, a group that wasn't left disappointed after year one in a Wild sweater.

"I'm not one to predict the future and to kind of predict what's next. This summer we're going to have the chance to sit down and think through all the options and what's best for the team and for me, and I'm confident that we will come to a good agreement.

"I like everything. Everything's been good, the team's been good to me, so I am very happy here overall."


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