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  • Kaprizov's MVP-Worthy Stretch May Carry Minnesota To Playoffs

    Image courtesy of Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports
    Tony Abbott

    Injuries have repeatedly struck the most important members of the Minnesota Wild. Jared Spurgeon played only 16 games in two stretches before he had to call it quits for the season. Joel Eriksson Ek recently went down with a lower-body injury. Last night, Jonas Brodin suffered a similar fate with a knee injury that might keep him out indefinitely.

    These aren't just some of the most impactful players on the team currently. They're three of the ten best players in team history. Since 2007, Spurgeon ranks first in Wild franchise history in Wins Above Replacement (26.9), Brodin is fourth (15.3), and Eriksson Ek eighth (11.7). Going without all three would cost Minnesota a full win for every 13 games, a huge disadvantage in an 82-game season.

    But losing Brodin halfway through the game last night didn't matter one bit because the Wild had Kirill Kaprizov, and the Anaheim Ducks did not.

    Last night was a quiet night for Kaprizov these days, which really means all he did was score his 36th goal of the season. Ho-hum. But even a slow night from Kaprizov helped Minnesota get to within three points of the Vegas Golden Knights for the second Wild Card spot.

    The Wild have had strong performances from Brodin, Eriksson Ek, Matt Boldy, Marc-Andre Fleury, and others since the All-Star Break. Still, it wouldn't be unfair if you assigned 97% of the credit for the 13-4-3 stretch that's kept Minnesota alive to No. 97. To say Kaprizov's been their MVP is almost a hilarious understatement. Over 20 games since February 7, his 17 goals lead the entire NHL. Only Connor McDavid (40 points in 20 games) and Nikita Kucherov (33 points in 18) have out-paced Kaprizov's 32 points in that span.

    The Wild's superstar is making up for a slow start to the season by his standards (8 goals, 24 points in his first 28 games). For about a quarter of the NHL season, Kaprizov's scored like a 70-goal, 131-point player. Even if we go back to December 18 (that is, his last 34 games), his 82-game pace barely suffers. His 28 goals and 53 points over that run would be the equivalent of a 68-goal, 128-point season.

    Is it any wonder, then, that the Wild are 21-10-3 (a .662 points percentage, or a 108-point season pace) in those 34 games?

    We're talking about a player who appears to be a cheat code again, dragging an injury-riddled, not-particularly-good Wild team kicking and screaming to the playoffs. It's the kind of performance that would garner serious MVP consideration in a year not dominated by Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and Nathan MacKinnon's exploits. And maybe it still should.

    Boldy and Eriksson Ek also have eight goals and 20-plus points since the All-Star Break, mostly skating alongside Kaprizov. Those performances make Minnesota look like a "one-line" team more than a "one-man" team. But if you want to say they're a one-man team, you're not exactly wrong, with all due respect to Kaprizov's fantastic linemates.

    The case for the Wild being a one-man team is simple: Wild goals happen almost exclusively when Kaprizov is on the ice. Last night's win against the Ducks was a bit of an outlier, with Kaprizov only being on the ice for one of Minnesota's four goals. Looking at each of the 67 goals the Wild scored since the break, Kaprizov has been on the ice for 42 of them. That's nearly two-thirds of Minnesota's entire output. 

    When a player goes on a run like that, they make their fans completely forget how to spell, reducing them to simply chant "M-V-P."

    Seriously, though, Kaprizov is on the ice for such a massive percentage of his team's scoring. Here are the players that rival him at the top of the league:

    1. Connor McDavid, EDM: 68.5%
    2. Victor Hedman, TBL: 68.3%
    3. Evan Bouchard, EDM: 64.4%
    4. KIRILL KAPRIZOV, MIN: 62.7%
    5. Seth Jones, CHI: 61.7%
    6. Nathan MacKinnon, COL: 60.9%
    7. Mikael Granlund, SJS: 60.5%
    8. Nikita Kucherov, TBL: 60.3%
    9. Mikko Rantanen, COL: 59.4%
    10. Phillip Kurashev, CHI: 59.6%

    We see three player categories here: MVP candidates, players who are the lone scoring option on awful teams (Granlund), and players who get to play a lot with the best players in the game (Bouchard with McDavid, Jones and Kurashev with Connor Bedard). Anyone's eye test would put Kaprizov in that first category.

    Though, it's hard to get on this list if your supporting cast is stellar. McDavid is on an Edmonton Oilers team that desperately has lacked depth for years. MacKinnon and Rantanen's supporting cast has been eroded over the past few years as role players cashed in elsewhere. The Wild's cap crunch means more of the burden is placed on Kaprizov, and the Wild suffer in the 38 minutes and 39 seconds per night when he's not on the ice.

    Since the All-Star Break, Minnesota has outscored opponents 42-20 with Kaprizov on the ice, compared to 25-32 when he's on the bench. Of course, special teams play a role in this. Kaprizov plays most of the power play minutes when his team is expected to score more and no short-handed time when Minnesota is much more likely to get scored on.

    Still, the swing is noteworthy at 5-on-5 when Kaprizov comes off the ice. The Wild outscore opponents 20-15 with Kaprizov, and their goal differential barely hangs on in the positive range (18-17) without him.

    That may not seem like a major difference, but it is. Kaprizov only plays a third of the Wild's 5-on-5 minutes, so outscoring the rest of the Wild is a big deal. In the last 20 games, the Wild have scored 3.88 goals per hour at 5-on-5 with Kaprizov on the ice. Minnesota doesn't even score at half that rate (1.73 goals per hour) when he's taking a breather at 5-on-5.

    Is this a red flag? Sure, but that's a moot point 69 games into the season. This is the reality for Minnesota. They will go exactly as far as Kaprizov's incredibly strong legs can take them. If Kaprizov can keep up this performance and take them to the playoffs despite all that's broken against Minnesota's way this year, it should cement Kaprizov's name on the short list of the NHL's best players.

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    Nice one man! 👍 

    Minnesota should not take for granted the best hockey player the organization has ever had. He has been a competitor and consistently the Wild's top weapon. He scores all types of goals and doesn't neglect defense. He doesn't just overshadow Gaborik in records. Kaprizov is a more complete player with a superior motor and toughness. 

    I hope the Wild can add the important guys at the right time to reach another level. If not for the injuries and bad start, MN could easily be sitting safely in a playoff spot today. #97 is the best thing that ever happened for the Wild.

    Edited by Protec
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    If Edmonton wiffs out of the playoffs 3 more years  maybe we can lure # 97 to join #97  in MN  . now the 1st part is very possible  but the 2nd part probably pipe dream

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    Nice article about Kaprizov, and his 3/4ths of a season for the ages.

    But with the Brodin-less Wild currently losing 6-0 to LA in the second period, it's hard to see 99 in his prime carrying this crew to the promised land, let alone 97.

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    4 hours ago, Citizen Strife said:

    Looks like one player can't help it if Fleury and Gus let in 6...ewwwwwwwwwwwww.

    Not a game they needed right now.

    With the injuries this team has and roller coaster play I'd contend last night is exactly what they needed and shows who the team is. This team doesn't have the blue line at this time or any depth to make a real push in the playoffs. Bring up the prospects and let's find out what the future looks like. 

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    Last season this time, they lost Ek & Shaw. They had been buzz'n before that.

    Now on top of everything, they lose Ek, Brodin, and are on the road against LA who got a few greasy ones early. A flubbed shot with bunt style tip-in and a pass that catches the defenseman's belly before going 5-hole. Being down three-rip in the first 10-15 minutes is kinda tough to overcome anyway.

    Brodin the NHL veteran can't be replaced overnight by Mermis the NHL rookie. No offense to Mermis, but MN has some work to do in the off-season to correct some of these issues.

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