For the first time in franchise history, the Minnesota Wild have a Calder Trophy winner. It was announced Tuesday night that Kirill Kaprizov has won the prestigious award for being the league’s best rookie. He was well-deserving for his incredible season after a smooth transition to the big stage.
Kaprizov received 99 of 100 possible first-place votes. He was able to garner the highest percentage of first-place votes since Teemu Selanne unanimously won the award in the 1992-93 campaign.
Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Alex Nedeljkovic finished second and third, respectively. Robertson had a solid season with 17 goals and 45 points in 51 games. He put pressure on Kaprizov down the stretch, but ultimately his effort fell short. Nedeljkovic finished with a .932 save percentage in 23 games, winning 15 of those. He saved 12.92 goals above expected, the third-highest in the league behind Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
There is no doubt that the other two finalists had very respectable seasons, but what Kaprizov was able to accomplish this season was beyond impressive.
A Look Back at His Excellent Rookie Season
The 24-year-old winger had a smooth transition to the NHL, which is an impressive feat. As soon as he hit the ice, he showcased his elite high-end talent which led him to record 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games – a near point-per-game pace. He really has been the player this franchise has desired and lacked since the days of Marian Gaborik – the only other superstar this franchise has had. He has restored life into this franchise and made the Wild a fun team to watch for fans across the league.
The biggest takeaway from Kaprizov’s electric rookie season is that he is truly a complete package. He has a lethal shot, strong playmaking skills, elite skating ability with incredible edge work, and an above-average defensive game.
He produced 18.84 individual expected goals, which put him just outside the top 20 among forwards. His talent also led him to draw 25 penalties, which was the fifth-highest in the league. Unsurprisingly, he managed to score 1.61 goals per 60, which was 10th in the league behind the likes of Auston Matthews, Max Pacioretty, Alex Ovechkin, and several other notable players.
An element of his game that hasn’t received enough praise is his two-way game. There are several similar forwards with tantalizing shots that are defensive liabilities. The fact he was able to hold an above-average defensive game as a rookie is incredibly impressive and very uncommon.
According to Hockey-Viz’s finishing charts, Kaprizov scored 25 goals on 19.3 expected goals based on the quality and location of the shots among other factors. That is good for 5.7 goals above expected which really displays his strong ability to finish on chances he isn’t expected to score on.
The Wild controlled 58.3 percent of shot attempts and 60.10 percent of expected goals with him on the ice. They were a dominant team with him on the ice which is expected for a high-octane offensive player of his caliber. Furthermore, his 11.13 primary shot assists per 60 and 2.24 high-danger shot assists per 60 are just a few numbers that display his strong numbers in transition, which is a key facet behind his exhilarating game.
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It is really important to consider the context of Kaprizov’s season. He accomplished everything he did in poor circumstances with Victor Rask as head coach Dean Evason’s usual center of choice for the star. With a better center on his line, Kaprizov will be able to flourish and it will make this team even more dangerous.
Kaprizov finished 40th among forwards with 1.7 wins above replacement, with the likes of Mark Stone, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner among others hovering around 2.5 wins above replacement.
The Wild are finally being represented in the different NHL awards. Kaprizov won the Calder, Matt Dumba was a finalist for the Bill Masterton, and Jared Spurgeon was a finalist for the Lady Byng. Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno were able to get some Selke recognition, most notably Eriksson Ek, who finished fourth in the voting.
This season really encompasses how bright the future is for the organization. With more reinforcements coming from the prospect pipeline as soon as next season, it is a fair assumption that this is just the beginning of young talent on this roster being showcased in the NHL awards.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Viz, Hockey-Reference & Transition Data From Corey Sznajder
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.