The Minnesota Wild have been a goldbrick to the NHL since the turn of the millennium. Much like the Buffalo Sabres, the market is head over heels for the game of hockey, so much so that they sell out games regardless of team success, which is very fortunate because successes have been few and far between in the land of a thousand lakes. Players like Mikko Koivu and Marian Gaborik have come and gone, with nothing to show for it since a conference final appearance in 2003. Bad contracts dished out in free agency have left the team hamstrung. The only way to revitalize a middling franchise like this one is from within. Enter Kirill Kaprizov.
The 2015 5th round pick of the Wild debuted a week ago against the Kings and introduced himself to Minnesotans in a big boy way; with 3 points, one of them being the overtime game winning goal. Following his debut, he collected assists on two more game winners. Nobody can blame fans of the Wild for singing his praises and raising expectations sky high, which I’d typically advise against with players picked 5 years ago in the middle of the draft, but this isn’t just any 135th overall pick. Kaprizov, like many Russian players, fell in the draft because teams weren’t certain he’d ever leave the KHL. The talented native of Novokuznetsk was playing for his hometown team in his draft year, and it’s no secret KHL owners can be very persuasive with their checkbooks towards players they don’t want to lose overseas. 15 players were picked before Vladimir Tarasenko for this reason. 25 players were picked before Evgeny Kuznetsov. 134 players went before Kaprizov, yet his KHL numbers after 6 seasons dwarf those of the aforementioned superstars, with 230 points in 293 games starting at age 17.
There is no question Minnesota’s scouts knocked this one out of the park. With 5 points in 4 games they’ve already far surpassed the expected return on investment for a 5th round pick. This is all great news, but it’s only the first piece of the puzzle of success the Wild have been struggling to put together for two decades. Kaprizov is going to score boatloads of points in the NHL. It is once again up to the front office to translate this into team success before it’s too late and Kaprizov starts looking for greener pastures.