Those who stayed up late enough on Thursday night — and actually get Fox Sports North — were treated to one of the more impressive debuts by a player wearing a Minnesota jersey. Kirill Kaprizov not only had two assists in regulation, and the winner in overtime in a 4-3 Wild victory over the Kings, but the 23-year-old Russian appeared to be in control every time he was on the ice and he certainly did not look like a guy playing in his first NHL game.
As Declan Goff and I hosted a late-night show reviewing what had occurred in Los Angeles, the question came up about the best performances by Minnesota rookies in their first game. Here are five athletes who made a big first impression. (I’m sure I’m missing some. By the way, this isn’t about good rookie seasons, so players such as former North Stars Dino Ciccarelli and Mike Modano don’t make this list.)
Maya Moore, Lynx: The first pick in the 2011 WNBA draft, Moore had 21 points, four rebounds and four assists in an 82-74 loss to the Sparks on June 3 in Los Angeles. Moore averaged 13.2 points per game as the Lynx won their first championship. The Lynx had gone 13-21 the previous season to finish second-to-last in the WNBA. Moore would go on to win four WNBA championships with the Lynx before leaving the league after the 2018 season.
Randy Moss, Vikings: Off the field concerns caused Moss to drop to the 21st pick in the 1998 NFL draft, but it didn’t take long for the wide receiver to prove he should have been selected much earlier. Moss caught four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-7 victory over Tampa Bay on Sept 6 in his first NFL game. Moss’ first touchdown came on a 48-yard pass from Brad Johnson in the first quarter, and the rookie continued to thrill the Metrodome crowd in the second quarter by catching a 31-yard scoring pass from Johnson. Moss would have an NFL-leading 17 touchdown catches that season as the Vikings went 15-1 in the regular season. Moss finished his career with 156 touchdown receptions, placing him second all-time to Jerry Rice (197). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
Kirby Puckett, Twins: The center fielder was called up from the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens one month into the 1984 season and was late arriving to Anaheim Stadium after his connecting flight was delayed. He also had to borrow $83 to cover his cab fare from the airport. Puckett was in the Twins’ lineup the next day, May 8, and never looked back. He went 4-for-5 (all singles) with a stolen base in a 5-0 victory. Puckett hit .296 as a rookie and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He would help the Twins win two World Series and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Fran Tarkenton, Vikings: Taken in the third round of the 1961 draft by the Vikings, Tarkenton did not start the expansion team’s first game on Sept. 17 but he certainly finished it. Coach Norm Van Brocklin had retired as an NFL quarterback to become the Vikings’ first coach and he gave the first start to veteran George Shaw. Shaw completed 2-of-3 passes for 22 yards before being benched in the first half against the heavily favored Chicago Bears at Met Stadium. Tarkenton’ scrambling style might not have sat well with Van Brocklin but his production did. The future Hall of Famer from Georgia completed 17-of-23 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran for 11 yards on four carries and a touchdown in a shocking 37-13 rout of the Bears. It was one of only three games the Vikings would win that season.
Darrell Thompson, Gophers: The running back from Rochester John Marshall High School made an immediate impact at the University of Minnesota, rushing for 205 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries in the Gophers’ 31-7 season-opening victory over Bowling Green on Sept. 13, 1986 at the Metrodome. Thompson went 60 yards on his final touchdown run of the game. He became the first Big Ten running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman and a sophomore. He is the Gophers’ all-time leader in career rushing yards (4,518) and rushing touchdowns (40).
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) January 15, 2021