Featured Posts | Wild

Zulgad: Kirill ka-ching: Kaprizov’s superstar talent level will give Wild leg up on competition

Kings Wild Hockey
Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97) beats Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) as he prepares to score a goal against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) in the first period during an NHL hockey game, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

The eventual return of fans to sporting venues in the Twin Cities will leave customers with decisions to make about where they want to invest their dollars. Coming out of a pandemic that has impacted the income of many, and in a market that isn’t exactly huge, this will create serious competition between the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Timberwolves, Lynx, United and various Gophers sports.

The Vikings have the biggest fan base in the state, so really it’s between the other teams when it comes to moving product and getting butts back in seats. That’s where the timing of Kirill Kaprizov’s arrival could not have been better.

Taken in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL draft by former general manager Chuck Fletcher, Wild fans spent five years wondering when the winger would finally arrive in Minnesota and if he would be as good as advertised. Seventeen games into his rookie season, Kaprizov has exceeded expectations. The 23-year-old has combined phenomenal skills with surprising strength to give the Wild the type of player they have lacked during their entire 20-year existence.

The Wild have had quality players — Marian Gaborik had star potential on his best nights and when he wasn’t injured — but Kaprizov is special.

His latest on-ice magic trick came in the first period of the Wild’s 3-1 victory (their fifth in a row) over the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center. Kaprizov gained control of the puck behind the Kings goal and banked a backhand pass off the boards to Jonas Brodin at the left point. Jonathan Quick stopped Brodin’s shot and Kaprizov tried to put the rebound past the Kings goalie. Kaprizov regained control of the puck and with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty draped on him, he went behind the goal and scored on a beautiful wraparound. It was his fifth goal of the season and team-leading 16th point.

The only shame of the play was that only a few hundred fans were allowed into Xcel Energy Center to see it. This was the type of electrifying goal that ordinarily would have brought a thunderous reaction that would have far exceeded the piped-in noise the Wild game-night staff is using with the building mostly empty because of the coronavirus.

Kaprizov’s goal gave the Wild a 1-0 lead at 12 minutes, 33 seconds and gave his teammates added confidence. It was no coincidence that the Wild got two more quick goals from Nick Bjugstad and Joel Eriksson Ek to take a 3-0 lead before the opening period ended.

Wild players aren’t the only ones who are happy to have Kaprizov on the team. When fans are allowed to return, the Wild will have a superstar player to market and there no doubt will be many No. 97 jerseys in the X. The Wild won’t be lying when they say that Kaprizov is worth the price of admission. Watching Kaprizov on television doesn’t do him justice.

When he’s on the ice, your eyes go toward him and the things he can do with the puck means it’s dangerous to turn away. Watch Kaprizov and you see a skillset that can be compared to Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. Kaprizov has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game and make opponents look foolish either by shooting the puck or finding a teammate with a pass that no one else on the Wild can make.

Fans got a look at Kaprizov’s skating and puck-handling abilities in a 6-2 victory on Wednesday in Colorado when Kaprizov circled the Avalanche net and played keep away with the puck. Wild fans have seen this type of display before but never from a guy wearing their team’s jersey.

The wait has been a long one. Now that it’s over, you have to figure Kaprizov-mania will give the organization a leg up on the competition both in their league and their market.