With a focus on development, the Wild are playing it cool with their red-hot Russian, Kirill Kaprizov.
Brent Flahr and three of his scouts rolled into Gothenburg, Sweden, in November to scout the Under-20 Four Nations tournament and were greeted with a surprise.
Kirill Kaprizov was on the roster.
Originally told by the Russians that Kaprizov’s KHL team, Salavat Yulaev, wasn’t going to release him to participate in the tournament, the Wild assistant GM was able to get his eyeballs on a player the team hopes will someday become a fifth-round steal in the NHL.
Kaprizov, drafted 135th overall in 2015, is on pace to have the most productive season of any teenager in KHL history and expected to be one of Russia’s most dynamic forwards at the upcoming World Junior Championship. It was Chuck Fletcher’s seventh draft as Wild GM, and Kaprizov was the first Russian chosen during his tenure. Fletcher and Flahr have typically avoided Russians because of the potential of those players being persuaded to stay or return to the KHL. But the 5-foot-10 Kaprizov impressed Wild scouts at every tournament they scouted during his draft year. “He’s extremely smart,” Flahr said. “His hockey sense is high end. Just a high-skill kid. He’s not a tall kid, but he’s well built. He’s really strong on his skates, but he makes plays all game long. He’s a talented player.”
After going 10 of his first 15 games without a point this season, Kaprizov was on a tear by mid-November. On Nov. 17, he extended his career-best point streak to eight games and had nine goals and 18 points in a 14-game span.
His career-high 12 goals and 25 points in 29 games leapfrogged him over Vladimir Tarasenko for fifth all-time in single-season scoring for a KHLer under the age of 20. Fourth? Kaprizov’s 27 points as an 18-year-old, only that came in 53 games.
Does this kid have NHL star potential? Flahr won’t say, nor will he compare him to any other Russian players. He doesn’t want to put unneeded pressure on the kid. “It’s too early to tell,” Flahr said. “I’ll just say at the KHL level and international level, he really stands out. He has a chance to be a quality player, for sure. He’s significantly stronger than he was last year. It’s noticeable in his skating, but he’s not afraid to play in traffic, and he’s just an exciting, competitive kid.”
Kaprizov planned to come to the Wild’s development camp this past summer, but right before it began he was traded from Metallurg Novokuznetsk and was told it’d be best if he stayed in Russia and made his mark on his new team.
Kaprizov doesn’t speak English, but those close to him, including Dmitry Sokolov, a fellow Wild draft pick and Kaprizov’s friend and former linemate, say he’ll be in camp next year. The plan then is to have him play in North America in 2018-19, after his KHL deal expires. “We’re fine with him staying another year,” Flahr said. “He’s getting better. But he’s told his agent and Sokolov that he wants to come over, that he definitely wants to play in the NHL.”