In Kirill Kaprizov, a new NHL star has been born

Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov scores his first NHL goal in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings in NHL debut.

A star was born Thursday night in the NHL, and if you're not a usual watcher of Minnesota Wild games (I forgive you), there might be a very good reason to check on them from time to time now.

With three points, including a game-winning goal in overtime, Kirill Kaprizov has taken what was already a fuelled-up hype train and turned it into a Maglev.

Yes it was only Minnesota's first game in 2021, but we formally welcomed the rookie to the Calder race Thursday night.

"This is a guy they're not only hoping he's good, but they're hoping he can breath new life into their franchise," Elliotte Friedman said on the most recent 31 Thoughts: The Podcast. "They got stale. He's there to breath life in there as much as anything else.

Kaprizov's drum beat could be heard long before the season started and most gambling sites had him within the top three Calder candidates before his opening game.

(Pre-season Calder odds table from Sports Betting Dime)

The advantage he has over the Alexis Lafreniere's, Tim Stützle's, Josh Norris' and Dylan Cozens' of the world is that Kaprizov's a "veteran" rookie -- a 23-year-old who's played, and excelled, in the KHL for five years since Minnesota called his name at the draft.

Kaprizov was third in KHL scoring last season, 11th the season before, and scored at a pace uncommon in that league for players his age. He was a top scorer for Russia at the 2017 juniors, 2018 worlds and led them with five goals at the 2018 Olympics, where he scored the overtime gold medal-winner against Germany.

The amazing thing is that Kaprizov was never a top draft prospect. He was a fifth-round pick in 2015, taken two slots ahead of Dominik Simon and a few after Conor Garland and Ethan Bear. And that it was the Wild who took him is amazing in hindsight.

Minnesota traded up with the Bruins to get that selection, 135th overall, and when they called Kaprizov's name it was the first time the organization had chosen a player out of Russia in 11 years. This was at least partly due to how uncertain it could be to get some of those players under NHL contract, and then there was concern as to how that would play out with Kaprizov.

In 2017 he re-signed a contract with CSKA Moscow through the 2020 season, delaying an NHL arrival that, at the time, seemed may never come.

"Well, you know that they weren’t too interested in me," Kaprizov said in a 2017 interview with Sport-Express when asked why he wasn't with the Wild. "What round was I picked at? The fifth? I think that they forgot about me immediately after the selection.

"Only when they took me to the world championship did they begin to stir, they began to talk to the agent. But we saw how Toronto courted Nikita Zaitsev. This was not even close to me."

Now, he's must-see TV in Minnesota, and may grow to make them a better view on a national scale.

Watch Kaprizov take a few shifts and you might be surprised he's only listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds -- or that size was ever a concern for him. He moves with quick power and is aggressive on the puck, which all make him appear a bit bigger in action. He's got top-notch offensive instincts and wasn't afraid of driving the middle in Game 1. His style is going to force the Wild to be a quicker team -- at least when he's on the ice.

He's always moving.

This is a potentially huge development for the Wild, a franchise that's been stuck in the mud for a while -- too good to wind up with a franchise-altering top draft pick, not good enough to contend for anything. If you include reaching last summer's qualification round (where they lost to Vancouver, so not technically the playoffs), the Wild have reached seven of the past eight post-seasons, but haven't won a game in Round 2 since 2014.

Part of the reason they can't break through certainly has to do with the fact they've lacked a real game-breaking offensive talent. Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal and Jason Zucker have been among the Wild's top regular season scorers in recent years and only one of them -- 36-year-old Parise -- remains with the team. You wouldn't say any of them really blew the doors off the competition in short playoff series.

Maybe 24-year-old Kevin Fiala is going to become that player for the Wild. In his final 20 regular season games last season he was a top five scorer in the league. Fiala's emergence two years after the Wild traded for him was a shot in the arm, but if two young scorers are going to arrive this year in Minnesota they might get the same kind of jolt usually reserved for teams that just picked off the top of the draft list.

This is how you start carving a path out of that mud.

"He's obviously a goal scorer from what he did in the KHL," the Wild's Nick Bonino told reporters in training camp. "What I've been excited to see is his battle level on the puck all over the ice in the few battle drills we've done. I don't think goals will be a problem for him. He's working really hard like we expect to see."

After his debut, the train has left the station. If you wanted Kaprizov on your fantasy team, or wanted the best Calder odds, that's not happening anymore.

Whether or not he can sustain his level in a condensed 56-game schedule and lead the Wild to the playoffs is to be seen. The West is still a tough division with St. Louis, Vegas and Colorado seemingly locked into playoff spots, leaving one left to play for. Arizona was a qualifier last season, San Jose has a very wide range of outcomes, and even Anaheim is a wild card.

But none of them added a player who will give as significant a boost on ice, and in mindset, as Kaprizov. He's made the Wild different this season -- and when was the last time we could say that?

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