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Plenty of fight: Kirill Kaprizov’s willingness to get physical is bad news for Wild’s playoff foes

NHL: Vegas at Minnesota Wild
May 5, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov (97) gets a two minute roughing penalty against Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud (2) in the first period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas’ agenda for the final game of its regular-season series against the Wild on Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center quickly became clear. In anticipation of a potential playoff meeting with the Wild, the Golden Knights were going to give rookie Kirill Kaprizov something to think about.

It started halfway through the opening period when Nicolas Hague delivered a cross-check to Kaprizov’s back in front of the Vegas bench. Marcus Foligno, the Wild’s toughest player, came to Kaprizov’s defense by taking on Hague as players from both sides mixed it up. One of those players was Kaprizov, who showed no interest in distancing himself from the rough stuff.

Kaprizov paired off with Vegas’ Zach Whitecloud with the former getting a roughing penalty and the latter getting a double minor. This marked the latest time that a team has attempted to see how Kaprizov would react to being roughed up. In each case, the 24-year old has appeared happy to push back and never seemed taken off his game.

If anything, it seems to add fuel to Kaprizov’s already superstar game. On Wednesday, he scored goals 2 minutes, 10 seconds apart in the third period to give the Wild a 2-1 lead in what became a 3-2 overtime loss. There is no part of Kaprizov’s game that has been a disappoint this season, but his toughness has to please general manager Bill Guerin and coach Dean Evason.

There is nothing that thrills an opponent more than finding out a star-level player can be taken off his game in the playoffs by being pushed around. Yes, a guy like Foligno can defend him, but a player that tends to lose focus, or is concerned about the next hit or slash he will receive, becomes a guy who can be neutralized.

“He gets ticked off, and it’s awesome to see that coming from a superstar,” Foligno said of Kaprizov. “He elevates everyone. That’s the type of player he is. He’s skilled, but he’s hungry. Since Day 1, even training camp, that’s what he’s been like. It’s so great to see that. It rubs off on everyone, and that can only make everyone around him better.”

This doesn’t mean the Wild want Kaprizov spending time in the penalty box — he has 16 penalty minutes this season — but the fact he becomes even more dangerous when angry is a plus that some previous greats have had. Part of the issue with Kaprizov is while he’s listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, he is very strong and difficult to move. He has spent the season going into the corners and coming out with the puck.

Kaprizov has had a fantastic first regular season in the NHL — his 26 goals and 47 points in 52 games leads all rookies — but the winger might be an even better player in the playoffs. Speed, unbelievable hand-eye coordination with the ability to shoot from any angle and toughness.

Sounds like a guy who could go a long way in the playoffs and take his teammates with him.