All aboard the Kirill Kaprizov hype train. It’s already roaring down Kellogg Boulevard in downtown St. Paul with scheduled stops at the Xcel Energy Center before inevitably reaching the rest of the state.
After seemingly endless anticipation over the past few seasons, the 23-year-old Russian finally participated in his first practice with the Wild on Monday afternoon at TRIA Rink. All it took was a few wrist shots to see he’s built differently than most.
There’s just something about the way the puck hums off Kaprizov’s stick and whistles into the back of the net. Heck, even his misses were impressive in their own right.
For the Wild, who have been searching for a legit sniper since the days of Marian Gaborik, it’s certainly a welcomed sight. Now it’s on Kaprizov to live up the lofty expectations.
While he didn’t address reporters on Monday — he is expected to do that through a translator later this week — his teammates were more than willing to rave about him.
“You can definitely see his skill level,” winger Zach Parise said. “You can see he’s got a knack for scoring. He’s going to be an exciting player for us for a long time.”
“He comes as advertised,” goaltender Cam Talbot added. “He can really fire the puck. He picks a spot and puts it wherever he kind of wants to. He seems to be dangerous any time he handles it.”
Nearly every eye in the building was fixated on Kaprizov as he skated alongside center Nick Bjugstad and opposite Parise during line rushes. That trio figures to be either the first line or second line when everything shakes out.
It remains to be seen how Kaprizov handles the pressure, though coach Dean Evason is hopeful he doesn’t pay attention to any of the outside noise.
“I hope he doesn’t listen to anything,” Evason said. “I hope he’s not on social media. I don’t know if he is or not. I think he’s gotten to this point because he’s very self driven. And I’m sure his expectations of himself are very high.”
As much as Evason is excited about Kaprizov’s undeniable talent, his only expectations are that he is “a great teammate” and that he “works his butt off every shift” when he’s on the ice. If he does both of those things, Evason said, everything else will fall into place.
Still, even Evason allowed himself to be dazzled by Kaprizov’s effortless ability on Monday, if only for a few moments. It’s easy to see how Kaprizov lit up the Kontinental Hockey League to the tune of 30 goals in 2018-19 and 33 more in 2019-20.
Not only was Evason impressed with Kaprizov’s skill, he was impressed with how much the rest of the team was so willing to help during his first practice. While everyone raves about how good his English is already, there’s clearly still a minor language barrier.
“You saw Zach Parise going over, like, ‘We are going to do this next,’ ” Evason said. “That was exciting for me to watch. We saw a little bit of it within the dressing room and early on off the ice before training camp. To see it happening on the ice, his communication with the guys, and the guys' communication with him, was exciting for us as a coaching staff.”
Maybe the most exciting thing to come out of Kaprizov’s first practice? As most of his teammates left the ice Monday, he stayed on a little longer, firing extra shots on net before finally heading to the locker room.
“He works really hard,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “You can tell that he wants to be the best, and that’s what we need on this team. His creativity as an offensive player that can get going right away is going to help us out. We are excited to get him going, get him in a regular practice with everyone, and it’s just going to build up from there.”