Kirill Kaprizov might want to get used to appearing at the NHL All-Star Game.
The Wild's leading scorer is set to square off in the fastest skater competition at the skills event on Friday in Sunrise, Fla., before playing for the Central Division in Saturday's 3-on-3 tournament. This is his second straight All-Star selection; there was no game during his rookie season in 2021.
Kaprizov hasn't saved his best just for the league's premier showcase. The 25-year-old winger has been drawing from a signature bag of tricks that accentuate his skill, smarts and strength since he began suiting up for the Wild two years ago.
"To be honest, I just try to take a simple moment in a game and try to make a simple play," Kaprizov said in Russian through an interpreter. "If I happen to get in a position to make something special, to me it doesn't seem special. To me it seems like the right play. Maybe to others it does seem like something special."
A leg up
The between-the-legs shot isn't a new phenomenon in the NHL.
Players like Edmonton's Connor McDavid, Boston's David Pastrnak and Florida's Aleksander Barkov have pulled it off. The Wild's Matt Boldy also scored on the shot April 19, 2022 at Montreal.
Kaprizov hasn't scored this way yet with the Wild — the winger has in the KHL — but it isn't a surprise to see him try it.
He nearly completed the feat Jan. 4 vs. Tampa Bay, his shot slamming into the post. His try Jan. 24, 2022 against Montreal sailed over the net, and another close call happened just five games into his NHL career when his attempt vs. San Jose stayed out.
"It's not like a show-boaty move for him," teammate Marcus Foligno said. "He's thinking it's giving him the best look."
The shot makes sense in tight spaces and when unleashing the puck from the forehand position is difficult.
But as impressive as the sequence looks, the effect it can have on goaltenders is what elevates the technique to more than a pretty play: The shot is tough to track because it doesn't require the usual wind-up.
"It changes the angle a lot," Boldy said. "That's probably why he does it. A lot of it probably happens natural for him, just how gifted he is and how skilled and how he sees plays develop.
"When you think about it, you're pulling it from in front of you to three feet the other way. It's a big angle change and opens up a lot of the net."
Going in circles
What can challenge an entire team and not just the goalie is when Kaprizov circles the zone, sometimes more than once.
He skated almost two full laps in that Jan. 24 game against the Canadiens last season before handing off to Matt Dumba for a one-timer. In 2021, he took multiple trips around the Colorado end on Feb. 24 while moving the puck. Then on March 12, Kaprizov traversed only about half the zone, but he eluded all five Arizona skaters before wiring the puck into the net.
"Can I shoot myself or can I pass for my partners or just skating, look around?" Kaprizov said in English.
This strategy works because of the confusion it can create.
"You're getting guys crisscrossing," Foligno said. "You kind of feel uncomfortable if you get on the other side where you're not supposed to be, especially for a D-man that's gotta come all the way to the blue line."
As for actually defending Kaprizov when he's in motion, that's another conundrum.
"Some of the best skill guys, you have to go at them," Ryan Hartman said. "You can't give them space. But if you do go at them, they make you look dumb. So, it's kind of a hard [in-] between — do you go at this guy or not, because if you give him too much time, he's going to beat you. You can't be too aggressive either."
“If I happen to get in a position to make something special, to me it doesn't seem special. To me it seems like the right play. ”
Back to basics
Perhaps the most quintessential of all Kaprizov's tendencies is much more subtle than a shot or how he skates.
He has a knack for turning his back against pressure in a unique show of puck protection that has served him incredibly well.
"That's the first thing I noticed when I got here is how often he does that," said Kaprizov's linemate Sam Steel.
Instead of always trying to dart around a defender skating forward, Kaprizov switches up his positioning to let his back act as a barricade between the puck and that defender. From that setup, Kaprizov can make a quick exit.
"He finds a way to almost bounce off of guys and gain speed," Steel said. "It's something that I think everybody wishes they could do, but he excels at it."
That's right: Kaprizov spins off the contact to escape the 1 vs. 1 situation while accelerating.
"You control puck more," said Kaprizov, who has a team-high 27 goals, 32 assists and 59 points in 48 games. "If you can move from left to right and if 'D' push you, you can go a different side and you have more speed."
Kaprizov's star power has been on display since he arrived in the NHL.
Barely two years in the league, he's already tallied the most goals (47), assists (61) and points (108) in a single Wild season and just a few months ago became the franchise record holder for the longest point, goal and assist streaks.
But Kaprizov was a spectacle before this as a KHL champion and Olympic gold medalist.
What's different about the NHL is there are "more moments," Kaprizov said, or more chances to score.
He's certainly taking advantage of those opportunities and doing so with extraordinary methods, even if that isn't his intent.
"I try to play simple," he said.