Back in January, just a few games into the shortened season, I was floored by the performance of Minnesota Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov. It was quickly apparent the Wild hadn’t had a player of his ilk since Marian Gaborik. Now it’s March and Dollar Bill Kirill has lived up to that precedent, he currently leads the team in points with 19, 6 of them goals, in 23 games. He leads all Wild forwards in time on ice per game, seeing an average 18:26 any given night. Approaching the half way point of the season, Kaprizov has established himself as a favorite for rookie of the year honors, but he’ll be dealing with some competition. A new Calder favorite is emerging these past few weeks, and he just so happens to hone his craft in the crease for Kaprizov’s Minnesota Wild. Enter rookie goaltender, Kaapo Kahkonen.
Goaltending was the obvious achilles heel for the Wild before they hit the ice this year, but Kahkonen has covered it up for the time being. Minnesota finished the month of February on a 6 game win streak, during which Kahkonen never allowed more than 3 goals, allowing 3 once in an OT win at home versus Los Angeles. In 14 starts he’s collected 10 wins, 2 shutouts, and posted a .924% save percentage with a 2.13 GAA. He’s set a franchise record for saves in a game by a rookie goaltender with 44. Add this to last year’s dominant performance in Iowa with the Wild’s AHL affiliate, which saw him win Goaltender of the year honors after finishing with a stat line of .927% 2.07 GAA, and it wouldn’t be far fetched to think he could be a star goalie in the NHL for a long time.
Things are looking up for hockey fans in the land of a thousand lakes, Kaprizov is a blast to watch, Kahkonen’s play harkens to that of fellow Finn and Minnesota legend Niklas Backstrom, more young players are filling the score sheet like Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Kevin Fiala, and that has given opportunistic veterans Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello another chance at NHL success and everyone is just running with it. Things are good now, but there are still some serious deficiencies with this club that need to be righted before I see them as serious contenders. The biggest issue is the powerplay, which has struggled all year and ranks dead last in the NHL with a pathetic 6.8% conversion rate. Kaprizov leads the team in powerplay time by a substantial margin with 81:36 total and only has 1 powerplay goal to show for it. You read that right. 1 goal in almost an hour and a half of powerplay time for the teams leading scorer. Something is horribly wrong there. The Wild have also struggled in the face off dot, winning only 46.4% of draws leaving them 28th in the league in that regard. It’s no secret the loss of Koivu through retirement left a big hole at the center position that is yet to be properly filled. If the Wild acquire a top 6 center before the deadline, they could take steps to right both of these issues and potentially make a deep run in the playoffs.