Heading into the 2020-21 season, the usual suspects were expected to carry the offensive load for the Minnesota Wild.
While Minnesota was certainly not considered a world-beater in regard to elite firepower, the likes of Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello figured to provide just enough juice to put the team on the postseason bubble, especially in what was considered to be a top-heavy Honda West Division. Good would be decent enough, even if it was not great.
Good, however, would not do nearly enough justice to forward Kirill Kaprizov’s production for the Wild so far this season.
The 23-year-old Russian rookie has quickly found a home in Saint Paul, but not as the supplementary third or fourth-line piece one would expect from such a young player not even 30 games into his NHL career. No, the former fifth-round pick out of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft was expected to produce right away once he got the opportunity at the NHL level, even if his specific role was that of a back-liner.
Even still, one would have to expect some expectation of growing pains and nagging inconsistencies. One would think, right?
To say Kaprizov has been a supplementary skater with severe inconsistencies so far this season would be, well, false. If anything, he has been the exact opposite.
After all, he has not only been a x-factor for the Wild, but possibly the x-factor for them, all while during his rookie season.
To see the significance of Kaprizov’s current campaign, let’s look at his base numbers up to this point.
In 27 games played, Kaprizov has accumulated 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) and has averaged over 18 minutes per game (18:16 ATOI) while cruising on the top two lines. His point totals rank first among all Wild skaters heading into action on March 18. When digging into the point specifics, Kaprizov’s 10 goals rank second on Minnesota’s active roster (Joel Eriksson Ek has 11), while his assist totals are tied for first (Jordan Greenway).
While this is definitely fine and dandy, how Kaprizov compares to his fellow rookie peers makes him stand out even more. When comparing Kaprizov to 34 other NHL rookies with a minimum of 20 games played through March 17, his assist, goal and point totals all rank first, with the next closest skater being Ottawa’s Tim Stutzle (six goals and 12 assists for 18 total points). Stutzle, however, has played three more games than Kaprizov (30 GP).
Let’s analyze Kaprizov’s production with Minnesota a little more carefully, now. Kaprizov’s individual game logs only adds to his consistency, and further proves why his club is currently primed for a playoff bid. Kaprizov has played in all 27 games this season and has tallied at least one point in 17 of them. Of those 17, six have been multi-point performances (he has collected two three-point performances and four two-point performances). In terms total time on the ice (TOI) in all of his matches, Kaprizov has played 19 minutes or more 11 times and 20 minutes or more five times.
The reasoning for the consistent ice time goes beyond mere point production. Defensively, Kaprizov has been sound despite the age gap there might be against the opponents he is checking on a shift-by-shift basis. When looking at Corsi For Percentage (CF%), which looks at the percentage of time the team had possession of the puck at even strength while the skater in question was on the ice, Kaprizov’s 51.3% mark is above the average 50% clip. This signifies that, while Kaprizov is skating, Minnesota has held possession of the puck more often than their opponent. Add in the fact that Kaprizov’s possesses a plus-minus (+/-) of +11 (also first among all rookies), and you have a player that has created better defensive opportunities through offensive means of production.
Let’s briefly look back at the totals on offense, or, perhaps more specifically, see where Kaprizov’s numbers rank compared to other rookie skaters throughout NHL history. Dating back to the 1979-80 season, eight skaters, in 30 career NHL games or less, have picked up at least 25 points, maintain a +/- of at least +10 and have less than 10 penalty infraction minutes (PIM) to their name: Jorgen Pettersson (1980-81), Mats Naslund (1982-83), Jiri Hrdina (1988-89), Sergei Makarov (1989-90), Gilbert Dionne (1991-92), Peter Forsberg (1994-95), Elias Pettersson (2018-19) and Kaprizov (2020-21). Of the seven to achieve the feat prior to Kaprizov, three (Makarov, Forsberg and Elias) won the Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the top NHL rookie every season.
Heading into the 2020-21 season, Minnesota was expected to be good enough on offense to maybe get the job done.
With Kaprizov added to the fold, Minnesota has not only netted a Calder Trophy contender, but a superstar that has transformed a decent offense into a potentially great one.