No More Super Hunger – Minnesota Hockey Magazine

The Minnesota Wild made Marian Gaborik their first-ever pick (third overall) in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The talented winger rewarded them with 219 goals (still the franchise record) and 437 points in 502 games over eight seasons. At his best and when he wasn’t battling injuries, Gaborik played at star level based on his speed and ability to find the back of the net. He scored 30 or more goals in five of his seasons with the Wild, including a franchise-high 42 in 2007-08.

After two decades, the Minnesota Wild finally have a player who can compete against the best in the league. (MHM Photo/Rick Olson)

The problem was that 11 seasons after leaving Minnesota, Gaborik remained the only Wild player capable of knocking fans out of their seats. Twenty years after its birth, the franchise was still looking for its first superstar. This search is finally over.

A season after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie and 122 games with the Wild, Kirill Kaprizov has established himself as one of the league’s top 10 players and the Wild’s greatest ever player. .

Gaborik was an exciting player but his game was not as complete as 24-year-old Kaprizov. How can this statement be made with such certainty? Name one thing Kaprizov doesn’t do well? Any part of his game where you think it’s really missing? We’re not talking about the weird night Kaprizov didn’t register a point, we’re talking about one area where he’s lacking.

You can not.

Kaprizov didn’t score a single point in the Wild’s 5-1 win at Washington on Sunday, ending a franchise-tying six-goal streak. He had a goal and an assist a night earlier in a 3-1 win over Carolina that took his season-high points total to 85, beating Gaborik’s mark of 83 in a season set in 2007- 08. The Wild have 14 games left to play and Kaprizov’s 39 goals edge Gaborik and Eric Staal’s franchise record by three. He is sixth in the NHL in points and tied for seventh in goals.

Another night, another goal celebration for Kirill Kaprizov. (MHM Photo/Rick Olson)

If Kaprizov’s talents ended with his goal that would be quite impressive, but he’s just as likely to deliver a spectacular pass or leave his opponents stunned as he uses his speed to circle around the net. Kaprizov’s 46 assists put him just four short of Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s team record of 46 set in 2007-08. So why not knock down the 5-foot-10, 202-pound left winger before he can do all that damage? If you’re quick enough to catch him, Kaprizov, stronger than he looks, will be more than happy to level you first and will often do so with a reverse shot. Get in his face and he’ll come back in yours.

Kaprizov isn’t going to be overworked, he isn’t going to be bullied, and he certainly isn’t going to lose many (if any) skill battles. The next step for the former KHL star, who was a fifth-round pick from the Wild in 2015 but didn’t sign until July 2020, will be to maintain his regular-season dominance through the playoffs.

After scoring 27 goals and 51 points in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, Kaprizov had just two goals and an assist in the Wild’s seven-game loss to Vegas in the first round of the playoffs. The lack of playoff success did not overshadow a spectacular season in which he led NHL rookies in goals, goals, power-play goals (eight) and shots on net (157 ), but it made it clear how much emphasis there is. on superstar players come spring.

The Wild’s first-round opponent this season will no doubt have a plan to slow down Kaprizov, along with teammates Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, and it will be up to that line to overcome the odds. It helps that the Wild’s second line of Kevin Fiala, Frederick Gaudreau and Matthew Boldy (that’s Tyson Jost right now with Boldy injured) also has the ability to be an offensive threat.

But if Kaprizov takes the next step, he will thrive where the Wild has so often failed. Kaprizov has already found himself under the microscope and ended up thriving. He signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the Wild just before training camp, then went goalless in his first eight games.

He had six assists but was at 3-under and it was hard not to think about the potential impact the big deal had on Kaprizov’s game. Only Kaprizov never seemed bothered by it and had six goals and 16 points, with a plus-8, in the next 12 games. This is how you make the second seers disappear.

Scenes like this featuring Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello (and a rotating cast of characters like Jared Spurgeon) have become commonplace at the Xcel Energy Center. (mhm Photo/Rick Olson)

Like many great players, Kaprizov has a Robin to his Batman. Zuccarello, who is almost 10 years older than Kaprizov, seems to share a very similar hockey brain. Show up at the Xcel Energy Center for the Wild’s pre-game warm-ups, and you’ll see Kaprizov and Zuccarello put on a passing display that continues long after most of their teammates have returned to the locker room. The chemistry continues once the game begins.

Zuccarello’s 20 goals are his most since the 2015-16 season and his 49 assists (21 on Kaprizov’s goals) and 69 points are career highs. Zuccarello would be accused of being too happy on almost every other line, but not this one.

“We’re kind of the same person,” Zuccarello said after his goal on Kaprizov’s setup on Saturday saw the latter beat Gaborik’s points mark. “I’m a bit older, but he keeps me young. He keeps me on ice. He is competitive. We are both. We like to be on top of each other, to chirp a little. We have a good relationship. It’s not often that you find someone you click with so well, once in a while. It’s special for me.

Zuccarello is not alone.

The Wild’s success this season is no accident and this team has the ability to qualify for the playoffs. This success begins with the fact that after 21 years of existence, the Wild has finally found its superstar.