It has been almost six years in the making for the Wild to finally see their budding star winger hit the ice. After being selected in the 5th round in the 2015 NHL Draft, Kaprizov has talked with three different Minnesota Wild general managers including Chuck Fletcher who drafted him, Paul Fenton, and current Wild GM Bill Guerin along the path to launch his NHL career. It was a lengthy and difficult path, but the Wild finally saw their coveted Russian prospect hit the ice this season.
After a storybook ending – something unfamiliar to Wild fans – to his NHL debut which featured the game-winning goal to secure the overtime victory, Kaprizov scored his first career hat trick on Friday night. It truly has been amazing for Wild fans to witness this type of game-breaking level of play from him. He and Kevin Fiala alike have both been two dominant forces for the Wild.
After tempered expectations and caution from some Wild fans, Kaprizov is clearly the real deal and has had no growing pains to start his career. It is the bright spot in disguise, one big benefit that has paid dividends is that the 23-year-old staying in the KHL has led him to become a more developed and complete player for the Wild which has clearly been evident so far this season.
First Career NHL Hat Trick
Kaprizov was a force for the Wild in Friday night’s 4-0 shutout win against the Arizona Coyotes. He displayed his game-breaking ability that has been on full display this season as he scored his first career hat trick in the NHL. It didn’t take long for the youngster, it only took 25 games which is an incredible feat by itself. To top it off, he didn’t even need an empty-net goal to get the job done. He scored all three goals at even-strength too including his hat trick clinching goal with just 49 seconds left immediately after the Wild scored an empty-net goal with the Coyotes’ goalie pulled.
After receiving a feed from Mats Zuccarello, Kaprizov skated to the top of the right circle and then fired the puck at the net which deflected off Christian Dvorak’s skate and just went under the arm of Adin Hill. That was his eighth goal and 21st point of the season which tied him for the rookie lead in goals.
While Kaprizov has been a playmaking machine and edge work enthusiast so far this season, he hasn’t shot the puck nearly enough for a player of his caliber with a tantalizing shot such as his that was highlighted all over scouting reports before his arrival to the NHL. He vowed to shoot more and he has most definitely delivered which happened to be in the form of his first hat trick with many more to come in the future.
The second goal was special, in part due to the nature of the play. It basically summed up his performance to begin his NHL career. When he wants the puck, it is best to step aside and watch to see what he utilizes from his bag of tricks. After a line change, Kaprizov stepped on the ice and went immediately to the offensive zone basically asking for the puck. Nick Bjugstad fed him the puck and everyone could see it coming from that point. Kaprizov skated around the net and then went to the top of the right circle where he sniped it past Hill. It was like a replay of the tape, both the first and second goals coming off his stick came from the identical spot.
After Jonas Brodin scored an empty netter to make it 3-0, it didn’t look like the State of Hockey was going to get the chance to witness its dynamic star score his first career hat trick. That wouldn’t be the case as Zuccarello passed the puck with less than a minute remaining to Kaprizov who was wide open in the left circle. Kaprizov made no mistake and fired the puck past Hill for his league-leading 10th goal and 23rd point of the season among all NHL rookies.
Kaprizov finished the night with a 64.71 Corsi for percentage and 79.89 expected goals for percentage. He controlled shot attempts, puck possession, and expected goals while he was on the ice. He truly played a phenomenal game, hence why he continues to play a large chunk of minutes including 18:12 on Friday night.
What made it more unbelievable was that all three goals were scored in the third period which is an uncommon and frankly rare way to score your first career NHL hat trick. Kaprizov had a career-high eight shots on goal too. It was a special night for the 23-year-old rookie, to say the least, despite the lack of fans in the building.
Incredible Rookie Season So Far & Leading The Calder Race
There is no doubt that growing pains do not exist for Kaprizov who has excelled this season. He has been sensational and has had an electric start to his NHL career. The rookie’s 10 goals, 13 assists, and 23 points lead all rookies league-wide. His 10 primary assists at 5-on-5 rank behind only Connor Mcdavid and Leon Draisaitl. His 13 penalties drawn are tied for 5th league-wide.
Kaprizov ranks 27th among all forwards in on-ice goals for per hour. When he’s on the ice, the Wild are scoring at a higher rate than league-average which isn’t a surprise because that passes the eye-test too. In some way or another, it feels like if he isn’t the goal scorer, he’s the player that generated the chance and made the play happen.
His speed, creativity, edge-work, and playmaking have been unbelievable. The Wild are also finally seeing his dangerous shot too. Kaprizov, 23, is very developed and his talent has been on full display this season.
I don’t think it would be fair by any means to say Kaprizov has no competition this season because that couldn’t be further from the truth. The array of rookies in Chicago as well as a few others are keeping this from being a landslide win. With this being said, it would require an unbelievable run from a rookie to overtake the clear frontrunner in Kaprizov.
It doesn’t look like Kaprizov is going to slow down any time soon which doesn’t look good for the other rookies. Actually, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to conclude this is just the beginning for him and the Wild. There is a strong case that he is still getting accustomed to playing in the NHL and that he hasn’t come close to his maximized potential in his rookie season.
There was a degree of hesitation to shoot the puck to begin the season, as of late, Kaprizov has shot the puck more and Friday night’s game could be an indicator of the future. He is certainly reaping the benefits from shooting the puck more.
There is a strong argument already that Kaprizov is going to be the best player in franchise history. The way he is trending is unbelievable and the Wild haven’t seen this type of talent since the days of Marian Gaborik. The Wild truly needed an upper-echelon player like Kaprizov to transform this Wild organization. He and Fiala alike are bringing the days of mediocrity to the end and have truly transformed this team.
The Wild organization has desired for a day like this to come. From this point forward, the most important thing to do is to lock up this young offensively-gifted winger to an eight-year extension.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Stat Cards & Hockey Reference)
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.