The State of Hockey has a pretty big gap in its resume when it comes to having a superstar. There’ve been plenty of prominent personalities and lots of good players. Still, after Marian Gaborik left in 2009, there’s been an absence of the superstar-type player who every hockey market salivates over. It wasn’t until the Minnesota Wild took Kirill Kaprizov in the fifth round of the 2015 draft that they unknowingly found the team's missing puzzle piece.
With the Wild on the brink of falling out of the playoffs, it can be easy to get down. But watching Kaprizov reminds us things could be a lot worse. No matter what, Wild fans can still tune in and see Kaprizov do great things.
Kaprizov didn’t make his North American debut for five years after his draft. Therefore, many wondered if he could live up to the hype buzzing around him from the few times we saw him outside of the KHL. Some worried he wouldn’t be able to translate his skills into the NHL. Kaprizov put those fears to rest immediately during his first NHL game in January 2021.
Making his debut in the COVID bubble, Kaprizov tallied three points in his first game. He also became one of only three NHL stars to score an overtime goal in their debut. He continued on that same course throughout the rest of the shortened season, proving that he was the real deal.
One way Kaprizov has endeared himself to Wild fans is by not being afraid to be physical. Unlike some star players who seem to be wrapped in bubble wrap, Kaprizov is not afraid to get into an aggressive board battle. There is real respect around the rink for a player who has the skills and can also make space on the ice for themselves to use those skills.
Of course, most Minnesota sports fans can’t accept a good thing at face value. Unfortunately, the past two off-seasons have been full of Kaprizov drama, making it seem like the typical Negative Minnesota Sports Fan Mindset was right. The summer of 2021 had everyone on pins and needles as contract negotiations with Kaprizov dragged on through the summer. Things were finally settled the night before training camp. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we learned that Kaprizov had been waiting in Florida.
After a great season with a disappointing first-round exit, Wild fans were again treated to a summer of worry in 2022 when news hit that Kaprizov might be stuck in Russia. Rumors and speculation flew all over as everyone waited to see how things would shake out. Once again, the state of Minnesota let out a collective exhale once Kaprizov was on American soil once again.
We can still see Kaprizov trying desperately to carry this team to the playoffs through all that turmoil.
It’s safe to say that Wild fans' worst fears have been unfounded, but that doesn’t stop them. There are rampant fears that Kaprizov is only biding his time in Minnesota before hopping off the bandwagon and onto a different team. But once again, that fear doesn’t seem to be based in reality.
Kaprizov knows he is a star, but he seems to be one of the few celebrities who embrace their fans and notoriety without getting a big head. He always appears more than willing to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
And unlike some of the other superstars of the league, how many endorsements or advertisements has Kaprizov done? Only one comes to mind, and he got a free haircut out of the deal. If scoring big endorsements and standing in the bright lights were his goal, wouldn't he be all over that Kwik Trip money, at least?
It’s hard to say a player isn’t in it for the money when they’re paid several million dollars a year to play hockey, but Kaprizov gives off a real sense that he’s just glad to play hockey. Hockey is his life while money seems to be a relative afterthought.
Minnesota is a state where most will feign humility when complimented, even on large accomplishments. Kaprizov does the same. No matter how many points or amazing plays he pulls off in a game, he is more concerned with the outcome. How many games have fans seen Kaprizov try to single-handedly turn a game around by seemingly putting the entire team on his back in the third period and leading the way? In some games, he’s on the ice every other shift during the third period and overtime. Kaprizov racks up the points and time on the ice because he wants his team to win, end of story.
Another fear that’s been floating around is that Kaprizov wants to leave the Midwest for a bigger city on either coast. While the draw of the Big Apple or a warm sunny beach is obvious, it doesn’t fit with Kaprizov’s lifestyle. As a kid growing up in Novokuznetsk in the southwest corner of Siberia, Kaprizov’s mentioned the similarities between his hometown and Minnesota. The cold and snow don’t bother him. Judging by his social media, he enjoys the outdoors in the same way many do in Minnesota: fishing, hunting, and boating. While he’s lived in a big city, he’s also used to a more rural location.
Minnesota offers Kaprizov a comfortable, familiar setting where almost everyone loves hockey just as much as he does. Nobody knows what will happen as his deal winds down, but the fear that he wants to bolt out of here just doesn’t fit. Minnesota and Kirill Kaprizov are a great fit for each other. And no matter how bad things are going in the standings, at least we get to see him play.
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