Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov has been running away with the Calder Trophy pretty much since the season started. He scored the game-winner in overtime of his NHL debut and has been hands down the best rookie in the league ever since.
In the process, Kaprizov has almost singlehandedly lifted the Wild to the next level. It’s not hard to imagine Dollar Bill Kirill turning the Wild into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender someday.
That said, a couple of weeks ago, word started to spread that maybe Kaprizov should be looking over his shoulder. As impressive as he has been to this point, Dallas Stars rookie Jason Robertson was starting to insert himself into the Calder Trophy conversation.
Just imagine that for a second.
After moving the North Stars about 1,000 miles south once almost 30 years ago — and going on to win a Stanley Cup, something no Minnesota team has ever done — the ghost of Norm Green was back to steal the Calder Trophy, too.
How has Kaprizov responded to Robertson starting to become part of the narrative?
Well, the 23-year-old Russian is currently riding a three-game goal streak, and in Wednesday’s 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes, he scored his latest highlight-reel goal.
With the game still hanging in the balance, Kaprizov snuck behind enemy lines for a breakaway, skillfully deked around goaltender Darcy Kuemper, paused for a few seconds behind the net, then accelerated from a complete standstill to score an incredible wraparound goal.
It was jaw-dropping in real time and even more logic-defying on instant replay. There aren’t many players in the NHL who can do something like that.
“The skill on that play was tremendous,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “He’s a special player and competes his butt off. There’s not too many nights where he goes silent and we don’t see him. He’s usually involved in a lot of areas of the game. He’s had a wonderful start to his NHL career.”
That play helped Kaprizov pass Marian Gaborik to set a new franchise record for goals by a rookie. He has 19 goals and 19 assists in 45 games. In comparison, Robertson has 14 goals and 21 assists in 40 games.
While there’s no doubt both players have been impressive this season, Kaprizov is the obvious choice for the Calder Trophy when looking at the body of work.
Not only has he been more productive than Robertson to this point, he also has the Wild firmly in playoff position. That has to count for something.
“It’s undeniable that he’s taken this team and moved it to the next level with his play,” Wild center Nico Sturm said. “He’s obviously getting targeted out there. The other teams know he’s one of our best players. He’s taken that adversity in stride. He fights off guys on the boards. He’s so strong. It’s really impressive what he’s done.”
Asked about Kaprizov earlier this week, winger Marcus Foligno joked, “He’s pretty good, eh?”
That’s putting it lightly. He’s the best player on the Wild and the best rookie in the league.
“We are happy to have a player like that on our team,” Foligno said. “It’s been a huge confidence-booster for our whole lineup. You get a guy like that and it takes pressure off some guys and then they can pick up their game a little bit more. It raises the bar. He’s been a treat. Just an awesome guy, and we’re lucky to have him.”