The Minnesota Wild are at a crucial point of the season, sitting five points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. As the Wild enjoy this weekend's All-Star break and next week's bye, they'll need to come out of it on fire if they don't want to miss out on the playoffs for the second straight year.
While the Wild's annual playoff push is yet to commence, fans may have their eyes tilted toward the future. More specifically, they may be drawn to what's going on over in Russia where their next potential superstar, Kirill Kaprizov, is sharpening his craft and perhaps getting ready to come to Minnesota next season.
As a fifth-round pick (135th overall) of the Wild in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Kaprizov has yet to put on a Wild sweater, instead opting to spend his time in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The 22-year-old (who will turn 23 in April) has been a goal-scoring machine since stepping onto the ice, notching 20 or more goals in three of the past four seasons.
In addition, Kaprizov is having his best season as a professional this winter, scoring 23 goals and dishing out 24 assists in 46 games. Those numbers not only signal the first time he's eclipsed the point-per-game barrier but are coming close to eclipsing his career-high point total from last year, when he recorded 51 points (30 G, 21 A) in 57 games with CSKA (Moscow).
With great puck control and speed, Kaprizov also possesses a shot that can light the lamp quickly as evidenced by his hat trick on Oct. 1, which took only eight minutes and 35 seconds.
With Kaprizov looking like a superstar in the making, other players are also starting to get giddy about his prospects in the NHL. In a recent seven-player poll by ESPN (which included Kaprizov), Kaprizov was unanimously selected as the next big star in North America. If that's not enough to get Wild fans excited, the quotes from some of the players may do the trick.
"I think everyone sees it," Former NHL player Nigel Dawes said. "It's kind of a no-brainer. He's a great player, he's done a lot already in his young career. I'm sure he'll face some challenges going over to North America, but the way he plays the game and the type of guy he is, and his character, I think he'll have a lot of success in the NHL."
Along with players, the consensus of Kaprizov's rising status extends to online scouting reports, including DobberProspects.com, who rated his fantasy upside at a 9.2, which essentially equates to a 92-point season in a best-possible NHL environment.
"Kaprizov seems to have taken a step forward in what could be his final KHL campaign," The website said last November. "It’s been a dominant season for the Russian, flexing his scoring ability and surrounding offensive skillset as his team’s driving force."
Such offensive firepower would be welcomed on this year's edition of the Wild, which ranks 13th in the NHL in goals but have just five players in double-figure goals after 50 games.
There's also a chance that Kaprizov could fill an even bigger void for the Wild, who haven't had an electric superstar since Marian Gaborik scored a franchise-record 219 goals within the first eight seasons of the franchise.
Although Mikko Koivu (203 goals) and Zach Parise (186 goals) are closing in on that number, neither have reached the same level of popularity nationwide as a true superstar.
It remains to be seen how Kaprizov will fare when he actually hits the ice in St. Paul, but for now, the Wild have reason to be optimistic even if their current status looks bleak.