Have yourself a year, Kirill Kaprizov.
It’s been a remarkable run for the Minnesota Wild’s 2015 draft pick. From international to domestic play, he’s been setting records and making fans question how the hell he fell to the fifth round of the draft.
Captaining Team Russia at the 2017 World Junior Championship, he set an all-time record for goals by a Team Russia skater with nine. Those nine goals led all tournament skaters this year, as did his 12 points. Those marks helped him earn the tournament’s Best Forward honor as he led Russia to a bronze medal finish.
In the KHL, skating for Salavat Yulaev, he’s been equally as remarkable. With a goal and an assist in a 5-2 loss Wednesday, Kaprizov passed Evgeny Kuznetsov for the most points in a single U20 KHL season.
With 20 goals and 42 points in 43 games, Kaprizov is now the U20 single-season record holder for goals and points and is just one assist away from besting Kuznetsov’s assist mark. It took Kuznetsov 49 games to hit 41 points. It’s worth noting that Kuznetsov’s mark is from the 2011-12 season and expansion of the KHL has diluted the talent pool some. But Kaprizov’s achievement is nonetheless remarkable.
In fact, the 19-year-old is having an outstanding season in general. He missed time for national team training and for the World Junior Championship, but his points per game of .098 ranks 10th overall in the league.
Part of that is undoubtedly the chemistry he’s developed with linemate and former Oilers forward Linus Omark. That duo has been connecting nightly this season.
— Молодежная Хоккейная Лига (@MHL_rus) January 2, 2017
The Wild certainly hope those numbers translate to the NHL and there’s reason to believe they will. Other players in the top 10 all-time U20 seasons have panned out well in the NHL, for the most part. Kuznetsov ranks second and third (41 and 32 points), Pavel Buchnevich ranks fourth (31), Kaprizov hit fifth place all-time last year (27), Vladimir Tarasenko ranks sixth and T-ninth (24 and 19), Nikita Filatov is seventh (22), Artemi Panarin is eighth (21) and Anatoli Golyshev shares the tie for ninth (19).
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) December 27, 2016
It’s not just those comparisons, though. You can see the skill level in his game. He sees the ice well and though he’s not a big skater, he uses a physical style to his advantage. The 5-foot-10 winger shows sound puck protection skills and an ability to emerge from the corner with the puck on a consistent basis.
Wild prospect and Team Russia captain Kirill Kaprizov with a great shot to make it a 4-2 game pic.twitter.com/656L3CJ2pJ
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 27, 2016
He’s also extremely capable with the puck. He distributes well, creates offense off the rush, and he shows immense creativity, something the Wild haven’t always had an excess of.
Wild fans were left in early January asking how soon the team can put him on the roster. The short answer is you’re going to need patience. Kaprizov is under contract in the KHL next season. Transfer rules will prevent him from making the leap to North America unless he buys out his contract. That’s not impossible. It’s been done before, but it’s rare.
The more likely scenario is that he spends his 20-year-old season in the KHL before transferring to North America to begin his NHL career in the 2018-19 season.
That’s not all bad. He was named an All-Star this season and is obviously developing well. There’s no doubt the Wild are interested in him coming over soon because scoring isn’t cheap and putting a player with his skills on the roster under an ELC is obviously appealing.
In fact, reports indicate the Wild attempting to speak with him during his time in Canada at World Juniors, but that Team Russia staff didn’t allow it to happen.
This offseason the Wild are going to need to dole out new deals to Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Mike Reilly and Erik Haula. The following summer it’s Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. There are also less-pressing and high-dollar deals like Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin in the summer of 2017 and Tyler Graovac in the summer of 2018 to deal with.
The youth the team has been built around the last few years are going to start getting paid. It in part means they’ll need a lot from guys like Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, Alex Tuch and possibly even Mario Lucia over the next few years to stay competitive with a tight cap situation. Yes, next season would be a great time for Kaprizov’s arrival. But there’s never a bad time to bring in a guy with Kaprizov’s skill set.
For now, Wild fans can admire from afar as he goes through the final six games of the season, extending his record run through the remainder of the regular season and into the KHL postseason.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.