The Minnesota Wild made Marian Gaborik their first-ever pick (third overall) in the 2000 NHL draft. The talented winger rewarded them with 219 goals (still the franchise record) and 437 points in 502 games over eight seasons. At his best, and when he was not battling injuries, Gaborik played at the star level based on his speed and ability to find the back of the net. He scored 30 or more goals in five of his seasons with Wild, including a franchise record of 42 in 2007-08.
The problem was that 11 seasons after he left Minnesota, Gaborik remained the only Wild player who had the ability to get fans out of their seats. Twenty years after its birth, the franchise was still looking for its first superstar. That search is finally over.
One season after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie and 122 games inside his time with Wild, Kirill Kaprizov has established himself as a Top 10 player in the league and the best player in Wild’s history.
Gaborik was an exciting player, but his game was not as complete as the 24-year-old Kaprizovs. How can that statement come with such certainty? Name one thing that Kaprizov is not doing well? Part of his game where you think it’s really missing? We are not talking about the odd night where Kaprizov does not register a point, we are talking about an area where he is deficient.
You can not do that.
Kaprizov did not record a point in Wilds’ 5-1 victory on Sunday in Washington, ending a franchise-like six-game scoring streak. He had a goal and an assist one night earlier in a 3-1 win over Carolina that put his overall season points at 85, breaking Gaborik’s single-season mark of 83 in 2007-08. The Wild still have 14 games left, and Kaprizov’s 39 goals are after Gaborik and Eric Staal’s franchise record in a single season with three. He is in sixth place in the NHL in terms of points and in seventh place in goals.
If Kaprizov’s talents ended up with his goal scoring, that would be impressive enough, but it’s just as likely that he’s making a spectacular pass or leaving opponents dizzy as he uses his speed to skate around the net. Kaprizov’s 46 assists put him just four left behind to equalize Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s team record of 46 set in 2007-08. So why not beat the left wing at 5-10, 202 pounds down before he can do all this damage? If you’re quick enough to catch him, Kaprizov, who is stronger than he looks, will be more than happy to level you first and will often do so with a reverse hit. Get into his face and he will immediately return to yours.
Kaprizov will not be overworked, he will not be intimidated, and he will certainly not lose many (if any) skill fights. The next step for the former KHL star, who was a fifth round of Wild in 2015 but did not sign until July 2020, will be to transfer his regular season dominance to the playoffs.
After conceding 27 goals and 51 points in the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season, Kaprizov had just two goals and an assist in Wilds’ seven-game defeat to Vegas in the first round of the playoffs. The lack of post-season success did not overshadow a spectacular season in which he led NHL rookies in goals, goals, power-play goals (eight) and shots on goal (157), but it did draw attention to exactly how much more focus has been put . on superstar players comes spring.
The Wilds opponent in the first round of this season will undoubtedly have a plan to slow down Kaprizov along with linebackers Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, and it will be up to that line to overcome the obstacles. It helps that Wilds second line of Kevin Fiala, Frederick Gaudreau and Matthew Boldy (it’s Tyson Jost right now with Boldy injured) also has the ability to be an offensive threat.
But if Kaprizov is to take the next step, he will thrive in the place where the savages have so often failed. Kaprizov has been under scrutiny before and ended up thriving. He signed a $ 45 million five-year deal with Wild just before training camp and then failed to score a goal in his first eight games.
He had six assists, but was a minus-3, and it was hard not to think about the potential impact the big contract had on Kaprizov’s game. Only Kaprizov never seemed bothered by this and accumulated six goals and 16 points, with a plus-8, in the next 12 matches. How to make the second time disappear.
Like many great players, Kaprizov has a Robin for his Batman. Zuccarello, who is almost 10 years older than Kaprizov, seems to share a very similar hockey brain. Show up at the Xcel Energy Center for Wild’s warm-up before the match and you’ll see Kaprizov and Zuccarello show a show that continues long after most of their teammates have returned to the locker room. The chemistry continues when the game begins.
Zuccarello’s 20 goals are his most since the 2015-16 season, and his 49 assists (21 have come after Kaprizov’s goals) and 69 points are career highlights. Zuccarello would be accused of being too pass happy on almost any other line, but not this one.
“We’re a bit of the same person,” Zuccarello said after his goal from Kaprizov’s setup on Saturday allowed the latter to break Gaborik’s point mark. “I’m a little bit older, but he keeps me young. He keeps me on the ice. He’s competitive. We are both. We like to be on each other and tweet each other a little. We have a good relationship. It “It’s not often you find someone you click so well with, to and from. It’s special to me.”
Zuccarello is not alone.
The Wilds’ success this season is not a fluke and this team has the ability to make it to the playoffs. That success starts with the fact that the wild 21 years after their existence have finally found their superstar.