Minnesota fans are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and last week, it dropped hard. Logan Stanley's mid-ice check went wrong and injured Minnesota Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov. If that wasn’t bad enough, after they evaluated Kaprizov, the team estimates that it would take three to four weeks for him to recover. The team had finally found its footing, going on an absolute heater. Watching Kaprizov’s leg fold awkwardly under him, fans automatically knew it was bad, and they should be expecting the worst.
But Minnesota fans need to start looking at the positive because there are several in this situation.
If there is one person the Wild want to always have in the lineup, it’s Kaprizov. But with his absence, this might be the perfect time to do some experimenting. Trying out different line combinations and seeing which ones work best will be great preparation for the playoffs, when absences need to be covered quickly. It also means that they can pull up guys from the Iowa Wild and see how they could possibly slot into the lineup when the team gets to playoff time. Seeing how each AHL player they pull up is skating at this point in the year will be invaluable.
It is well known that Kaprizov routinely puts the whole team on his back to help secure a win. He seems willing to battle through anything to get the win. Kaprizov is a team player through and through, and we love that. But it also means that he will push himself through things he probably shouldn’t. We don’t know what other bumps and bruises our Russian superstar might have sustained recently. Three to four weeks of rest will do wonders for Kaprizov. Anything bothering him will have time to heal, not just his lower-body injury. He might even have some time to catch up on his video games.
If all goes well and, knowing Kaprizov’s passion for hockey, it will, he should be back in time for playoffs. What better way to start a long playoff run than with a completely refreshed star who is ready to rule the rink?
Kaprizov has accounted for over 20% of the team’s goals this season. Everybody knows he’s a prolific goal-scorer. Once Kaprizov made his debut, teams make sure that he is always well-defended. Even then, he can battle his way out and make plays happen.
With his sudden absence, other players will need to step up and pick up the slack. That is a great opportunity to shape up for the playoffs. Lately, the Wild have great goaltending, amazing defense, special teams that are generally effective, and a Russian superstar. The one area they’ve been lacking is secondary scoring.
This month-long absence by the team’s top scorer will force the other guys to chip in. Perhaps without Kaprizov to depend on, they’ll be forced to try for more greasy goals instead of incessantly passing it, trying to make a pretty play. Some of the streaky scorers will hopefully find their scoring on an upswing. Consider it scoring bootcamp for any of the players who have struggled to score this season.
In a way, the team is lucky that Kaprizov was injured when he was. If it happened any later, his recovery would run into the beginning of playoffs. If it happened earlier, the Wild would be playing extra-desperate hockey in hopes to secure a playoff spot. As it is, the Wild sit comfortably in second place in the Central division with a six-point cushion from the wild card slot. Without being too presumptuous, Minnesota has all but secured a spot in the playoffs.
But without Kaprizov, other teams may stop seeing Minnesota as a threat. They may be lulled into a false sense of comfort when it comes to playing the Wild at the end of the season. That could be a great thing for the Wild, who can leverage that by coming out swinging every night. It could also extend to playoffs, where teams might see Minnesota as a dark horse contender.
Without underestimating other teams and their plans, one could hope that having Kaprizov out at the end of the season will affect the way the other teams prepare to play the Wild in the playoffs. Of course, Kaprizov will quickly remind them why they need to dedicate a defender just to him. But hopefully, he can sink a few goals before that happens.
Overall, as much as the Wild and their fans will miss Kaprizov, he will probably miss hockey even more. He seems to live and breathe hockey, so being forced to sit out will be rough on him. When he comes back, he’ll probably come back with a bang. Until then, Kaprizov will rest up and heal, saving up all of his hockey energy for the playoffs.