Kirill Kaprizov was on the ice Thursday morning at Tria Rink in St. Paul for the first practice of Wild training campPost should not be noticeable.
The star striker only played one season of a five-year, $45 million contract, and his next release is highly anticipated following his previous record-breaking performances.
But Kaprizov’s ability to join Wild was called into question over the summer as uncertainty increased for the Russian NHLers while the war in Ukraine continued, and the mystery was finally cleared up when the 25-year-old returned to Minnesota in August.
“We are delighted to have him here,” said General Manager Bill Geren. “We are happy that he is safe and well and ready to go, and he is excited.
“This is behind us.”
Speculation about 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 had come to the United States following Ivan Fedotov’s upcoming transfer of Philadelphia to a military base in Russia. Because his name was associated with a false military ID.
At the time, Gerin denied the news, telling reporters that Kaprizov was in Russia with friends and family and that he was “fine”. But Kaprizov’s status remained unclear until he returned to the Twin Cities on August 2. Kaprizov needed a work visa, and Geren said the wilderness had “some very special people” helping to secure that.
“It was more difficult than we thought it would be,” Geren said. “We had some problems getting him back to the US. We have had some help from some friends in Washington DC, and we are very grateful for that.
“Kirill was really patient. He did exactly what he had to do. It was a really tough time for him.”
With teammate Mats Zuccarello at his side, Kaprizov was asked after practice on Thursday about the situation, but Zuccarello was the first to reply, “We’re not going to talk about it. We’d just like the hockey questions.”
However, Kaprizov stated through an interpreter that he wasn’t worried about returning for the season before finally saying, “If we can keep questions for hockey-related topics at this time, I think that would be better.”
While Guerin said he didn’t think Kaprizov was in a “life-threatening or anything like that” situation, he acknowledged that Wild wasn’t aware of Kaprizov’s safety at first. Geren said he wasn’t sure if this would still be a problem for Kaprizov.
“As long as he’s here, he’s fine and things are fine,” said Geren. “Just let him focus on hockey.”
Based on what Kaprizov has shown so far, hockey should be captivating.
Crowned as the NHL Rookie of the Year after his debut season with Wild, Kaprizov has been even more impressive in his appearances: 47 goals, 61 assists, and 108 points, all team records and production that made him Wild’s first 100-point player and top-five scorer in league. He even earned some MVP considerations, finishing seventh in the Hart Cup vote. He never looked like his role in the playoffs when he scored seven goals in six games against middle-tier rival St. Louis.
His streak with Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, who are also coming off their best seasons with Wild, are reunited at camp, and the trio characters will be key. In the Wild’s quest to fix The glitch that saw the most successful regular season in franchise history fail another first-round exit. The team has not progressed since 2015.
“Every season, I want to be better and better all the time, like the results of the team and myself,” Kaprizov said through an interpreter.
What is better than 100 points?
“Two hundred,” Zuccarello said.
The sarcasm elicited laughter, but the idea that Kaprizov and anyone else with career years could avoid becoming a one-time prodigy is tangible for Wild.
“The challenge has come out,” Green said. “We want you to do it again. Make this the standard in your game because if you do it once, you can do it again.”
When it comes to Kaprizov, one more event may be more real.
“I don’t think we’ve seen more than Kirill,” Geren said. “He is an outstanding player.”