Kirill Kaprizov was on the ice Thursday morning at Tria Rink in St. Paul for the Wild’s first practice of training camp, an attendance that shouldn’t have been notable.
The star forward has played just one season of a plump five-year, $45 million deal, and his next outing is highly anticipated following his previous record-breaking performance.
But Kaprizov’s ability to join the Wild came into question over the summer as uncertainty grew for Russian NHL players as the war in Ukraine continued, an ambiguity that was finally dispelled when the 25-year-old returned to Minnesota in August.
“We’re just happy he’s here,” general manager Bill Guerin said. “We’re happy he’s safe and healthy and ready to go, and he’s excited.
“It’s behind us.”
Speculation over Kaprizov’s whereabouts and whether he could travel to the United States intensified in July ahead of the NHL Draft after a report from Russia said Kaprizov came to the United States following Philadelphia hopeful Ivan Fedotov taken to a military base in Russia. because his name was linked to a fraudulent military identification.
At the time, Guerin denied this information, telling reporters that Kaprizov was in Russia with friends and family and was “doing well”. But Kaprizov’s status remained uncertain until his return to the Twin Cities on August 2. Kaprizov needed a work visa, and Guerin said the Wild had “very, very special people” to help him get that.
“It was harder than we thought,” Guerin said. “We just had some problems getting him back to the United States. We got some help from some friends in Washington DC, and we’re extremely grateful for that.
“Kirill was very patient. Did exactly what he had to do. It was just a very difficult time for him.”
With teammate Mats Zuccarello by his side, Kaprizov was asked after training Thursday about the situation, but Zuccarello was the first to respond: “We’re not going to talk about it. We would only like questions about hockey.
Kaprizov, however, mentioned through an interpreter that he was not worried about returning for the season before finally saying, “If we could just keep the questions on hockey-related topics for now, I think that would be better. .”
Although Guerin said he did not believe Kaprizov was in a position “threatening his life or anything like that”, he acknowledged that the Wild initially did not know Kaprizov’s safety. Guerin said he wasn’t sure that would remain a problem for Kaprizov.
“As long as he’s here he’s fine and things are going well,” Guerin said. “Let him focus on hockey.”
From what Kaprizov has shown so far, hockey should be exciting.
After being crowned the NHL’s top rookie following his first season with the Wild, Kaprizov was even more impressive in his recall: 47 goals, 61 assists and 108 points, all team records and production that have made him the Wild’s first 100-point player and a league leading scorer. He even received MVP consideration, finishing seventh in voting for the Hart Trophy; never again did he play the role until the playoffs when he scored seven goals in six games against Central Division rivals St. Louis.
His line with Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, who are also coming off their best seasons with the Wild, have been reunited in camp, and the trio plays a key role in the Wild’s pursuit of solving the problem that has seen the regular season the most success story in the franchise’s history. fizzles in another first-lap outing. Since 2015, the team has not progressed.
“Every season I want to be better and better all the time,” Kaprizov said through an interpreter, “like the results of the team and myself.”
What’s better than 100 points?
“Two hundred,” Zuccarello said.
The joke drew some laughs, but the idea that Kaprizov and anyone who’s had years in their careers can avoid becoming a one-hit wonder is tangible for the Wild.
“The challenge has been issued,” Guérin said. “We need you to do it again. Let it be the standard for your game, because if you do it once, you can do it again.”
As for Kaprizov, another one-up might be more realistic.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the most of Kirill,” Guerin said. “He’s a special player.”