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  • Kirill Kaprizov Arrived A Year Ago and Somehow Exceeded Expectations

    Tony Abbott

    Exactly one year (and six days) ago, Kirill Kaprizov first took the ice for the Minnesota Wild. It was immediately apparent that he was worth the over five-year wait. The 2015 fifth-round draft pick scored three points: two primary assists, and of course, a goal in overtime.



    All calls to temper expectations for the Russian superstar vanished. The hype train was on, and all Kaprizov did was live up to it over and over again. He sailed to a Calder Trophy win, securing his victory with 11 goals over his last 13 games. His 27-goal, 51-point rookie season stacks up favorably to Hall of Famers, including fellow older rookies in Brett Hull and Teemu Selanne.


    A relatively slow start (three goals, 11 points in 15 games) gave way to the biggest offensive explosion in franchise history. Kaprizov is riding the wave of 19 games where he's compiled 13 goals and 33 points. Marian Gaborik, Eric Staal, and Kevin Fiala have all had long, absurd hot streaks. None of those can touch what Kaprizov's doing.


    With that context, even his slow start is almost impressive. He was scoring at a 17-goal, 60-point pace on his worst month. Then his last 19 games are seeing him sport a 56-goal, 142-point 82-game pace. So Kaprizov looks like Mikael Granlund on his worst month and peak Pat LaFontaine at his best. Can't hate that combination of floor and ceiling.



    Since we've seen 89 games from Kaprizov in just over a calendar year, let's take a step back from the day-to-day brilliance and look at the overall picture. How is he stacking up against the rest of the league? Is he truly elite, or is he simply very good playing in a market starved for any scraps of true star power?


    We're going to start with raw point production because that's kind of what Kaprizov's paid to do: rack up that offense. Unsurprisingly, he looks great here, as he's tied with Jake Guentzel for 11th and 12th in the NHL with 43 goals and 95 points, respectively. The players surrounding him in points are impressive names, including Alex Ovechkin (97), Sebastian Aho (96), Johnny Gaudreau (92), and Mitch Marner (92). It's pretty difficult to say any of them aren't superstars.


    So, looking at that, you have to say that Kaprizov's around a top-10 to 15 player in the world offensively. At least, through one season.


    There are few ways you can dismiss Kaprizov's accomplishments, but one common way to do it is to point out his status as a 23-year-old rookie last year. His age didn't stop him from taking all but one first-place Calder vote, but that sentiment is out there.


    Instead of comparing his productions to rookies, then, we're going to look at how he stacks up against his age group. Condensing his point production over the last 371 days to 82-game paces gives us 40 goals and 88 points. How many NHLers have matched those numbers in a single season before turning 25?


    The answer is 12 since the start of the salary cap era. Ovechkin (five times), Steven Stamkos (three), Leon Draisaitl, and Connor McDavid (twice each) have all done the feat multiple times. Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Zach Parise, David Pastrnak, Brayden Point, and Eric Staal have all done it once.


    If you're hitting those numbers by 25, you're almost certainly going to have a great career. Even when you exclude the four players who did that multiple times, there are still three Hart Trophies, three Conn Smythes, four Rocket Richards, and three Art Ross Trophies among that group. Add five Harts and a boatload more trophies if you include the other four.


    Who has the worst career of anyone on this list? Parise? Even he was a six-time 30-goal scorer who would've sailed past 400 career goals if his body didn't fail him. It should also be noted that only MacKinnon has yet to make a Stanley Cup Final of all the players on this list. Everyone else was a key contributor to a Cup Finalist or Winner.



    But hey, points are nice, but they aren't everything. How does Kaprizov's overall game contribute to the Wild winning? For that, we're going to look at how he stacks up with Evolving Hockey's Standings Points Above Replacement metric.


    Since the start of last season, Kaprizov's play has been worth 6.4 points in the standings. That may not seem like a ton since a team can get a possible 162 points. Remember, though, that there's a considerable difference in playoff odds between, say, a 100-point team and a 94-point team. It's a pretty sizable difference.


    It's also elite among NHLers. He's 25th in the NHL in SPAR since last year, just behind Point and Jonathan Huberdeau. On a per-minute basis, he's nestled between Draisaitl and MacKinnon. What's more, that placing can improve even more with a better Wild power play.


    Since the start of last year, the Wild has shot just 9.3% on the man advantage with Kaprizov on the ice. That's the 10th-worst mark in hockey out of 203 players with 150-plus power-play minutes in that span. Whether it's bad luck, a flawed system, a lack of skill around him, or a combination of the three, it's dragged his power-play value to a negative score in SPAR.


    If you use expected SPAR, which normalizes for luck, Kaprizov fares even better. His xSPAR suggests he's worth 9.1 points, which is ninth in the NHL since his arrival. Only Auston Matthews, McDavid, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Alex DeBrincat, Joe Pavelski, Andrew Mangiapane, and Draisaitl sit above him.


    Kaprizov isn't just the best player a talent-starved franchise has ever seen. He's not just an incredible draft day steal or one of the best Russians in the game. We're talking about a player who, in the last year, is emerging as a borderline MVP candidate. He's arguably a top-10 player in the world. At worst, top-25. The Wild are arguably underpaying Kaprizov on his $9 million salary-cap hit.


    It's been an incredible year to watch, and history says there's a lot more where that came from.

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