The Minnesota Wild entered this strange 2020-21 NHL season with a questionable, but refurbished image. General Manager, Bill Guerin was not shy about signaling a new direction after declining an extension for long-time captain Mikko Koivu this past offseason and 31-year-old defenseman Jared Spurgeon soon became his successor and fully solidified a new direction in the Twin Cities.
In addition to the leadership change, the Wild also added highly anticipated prospect Kirill Kaprizov to the roster. The Russian sniper has played a factor from the jump, having scored two goals and five assists over his first eight NHL games.
The Wild took a patient approach with the 23-year-old Novokuznetsk native. A 5th round (123rd overall) selection in 2015, had been playing in the KHL over the last five seasons. His last KHL squad was former Red Army, CSKA Moscow where he steadily increased his production each season. He reached a point per game pace in 2019-20 with 33 goals and 29 helpers over 57 games.
Kaprizov becomes a restricted free agent after this rookie season, but does not have enough NHL experience to be eligible for an offer sheet. Based on his Wild start, it is likely that an extension would be exciting for both parties; especially if the youngster is nominated or wins the Calder Trophy for leagues best rookie. As it stands, he is the betting favorite to win that award which would also mark a franchise first.
In addition to Kaprizov’s offensive punch, the Wild have also been the benefactor of a consistent goaltending tandem with Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kähkönen. Both players have put up solid individual statistics during their split duties and have been a big factor in the Wild’s early five-win, three-loss record — tied with the Colorado Avalanche for 2nd in the temporary Western Division.
As fate would have it, the Wild and Avalanche begin a mini four-game series tonight in St. Paul. The two teams will play tonight and tomorrow at the Excel Centre and next Tuesday/Thursday in Denver.
Tonight will also mark Ian Cole’s first action against his former Avalanche teammates. Colorado moved the veteran defender to Minnesota in exchange for Greg Pateryn on January 19th.
This move freed up over a $1 million cap space and ultimately made possible by the pro readiness of 19-year-old Bowen Byram who will undoubtedly only get better over time.
The Avalanche series will serve as a definitive test for the Wild , and should make for an exciting string of games.
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