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  • Is the NHL Network Finally Giving Kaprizov His Due?

    Tony Abbott

    BREAKING NEWS: The NHL Network finally knows the Minnesota Wild exists. Since the network's inception, the State of Hockey has largely been even more ignored (and ignorable) than when there was no NHL club there. But not today. That acknowledgment is finally here, in the form of the NHL Network's recent winger rankings.



    Kirill Kaprizov sits at No. 3 among wingers in the NHL, behind Alex Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov. Pretty impressive, especially since these lists tend to defer to seniority. For the NHL to consider Kaprizov a top-3 player at his position after two years is astonishing.


    It'd be exciting, too, except for one problem: These lists tend to be bad. We could dunk on past lists, but why do that when we can just dunk on this winger's list? Does anyone think the Calgary Flames upgraded by getting Jonathan Huberdeau and losing Johnny Gaudreau? Or that the Florida Panthers downgraded trading Huberdeau for Matthew Tkachuk? Who the hell would take Patrick Kane, one of the worst defensive forwards, over a two-way force like Mark Stone?


    On the scale of reliable sources, NHL Network ranks somewhere between Blowhard loudly stating their hockey takes next to you at the bar and Blowhard loudly shouting their hockey takes in front of you at a game. So let's take a closer look at this. Is Kaprizov the third-best winger in the NHL? Does this list over, under, or properly rate him?


    Let's start with Ovechkin at the top. Here we get to the heart of the question: Are we talking about the best wingers right now, or is this a lifetime achievement award? What's a winger's job? Is it just to score goals and provide offense? Shouldn't defense matter, even if it's not a premium defensive position?


    If anyone deserves a lifetime achievement ranking, it's Ovechkin. His 50-goal season brought his lifetime total up to 780. He's improbably got a shot to break Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record, even with a lockout and COVID robbing him of a full season. But while a 36-year-old Ovechkin notching 50 goals is incredible, Kaprizov brings more offensively and plays better two-way hockey. If it's right now, Kaprizov wins out over Ovi.


    Speaking of being robbed, injuries have robbed Kucherov of all but 47 regular-season games over the past two seasons. But add an extra 46 playoff games, and Kucherov has a total of 41 goals and 128 points over 93 games. You can ding his defense, but his overall value is consistently great, and he's such an offensive weapon that it's hard to argue with this ranking.


    So, now Kaprizov's up to second. But what about everyone below him?


    What if we tried figuring it out by doing something kind of dumb but disguised as scientific? Let's rank these top-20 wingers along three factors: Their goal-scoring rate (All situations, per hour), their points rate (All situations, per hour), and their Standings Points Above Replacement. All these will take place over the past two seasons, lining up with Kaprizov's NHL career.


    That should weigh the ability to put the puck in the net, raw offense, and an overall ability to drive results on equal footing. Whatever you think is the primary job of a winger, one of those three should cover it. Here's what we'd get: Screen-Shot-2022-08-24-at-8.16.21-PM.png


    Judging by those three things, Kaprizov sits on top of these rankings. At the very least, he's in the top tier alongside Gaudreau, Brad Marchand, and Mikko Rantanen. Interestingly enough, Jason Robertson rounds out the top 5. As you'll remember, Robertson was Kaprizov's primary competition for the Calder Trophy last season. It appears they'll be tied together in the "Best Winger" conversations for the next while.


    There's room to quibble with this list, for sure. Kucherov, in particular, gets punished for his injury issues. If we didn't use raw SPAR over a per-hour number, Kucherov would have shot up to No. 1 with a bullet. As it stands now, though, he's seventh. That sounds about right when accounting for being out for an entire season, then half a season.


    You might also not think goal-scorers should be weighted above playmakers, which definitely hurts the stocks of folks like Gaudreau, Huberdeau, Mitch Marner, and to a lesser extent, Rantanen and Marchand. Each of those names would jump above Kaprizov if goal-scoring weren't a factor. Your mileage may vary, but it makes sense to give players who put the puck in the net themselves an edge over those that rely on others to do it.


    You can't really say the NHL Network got this list right. Rantanen and Gaudreau are pretty underrated at sixth and seventh. The listmaker should probably be arrested for putting Robertson and Forsberg at 15th and 19th. But credit where it's due; they mostly got it right on Kaprizov, at least. It certainly passes the eye test.



    It's hard to look at Kaprizov compared to the rest of the league and conclude he's much further down than a top-5 winger in the league. No. 3 seems pretty reasonable, giving enough room to defer to Kucherov's history or reward an out-of-this-world playmaker in Gaudreau. But hey, if you want to rank him higher, you certainly can. Say he's No. 1. Go nuts. For the first time in history, a Wild fan can argue that their favorite player is the best in the league at their position without eliciting laughter. Take the opportunity and run with it.


    All stats from Evolving Hockey.

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