Wild General Manager Bill Guerin believes Kirill Kaprizov’s English skills are better than the Russian winger gives himself credit for, but the team is still planning to help its prized prospect pick up the language.
And Kaprizov is on the brink of hearing it quite a bit.
After the organization drafted him in the fifth round five years ago, Kaprizov finally signed a two-year, entry-level contract Monday and is eligible to join the Wild for the rest of the season despite not being able to compete.
The Wild is working to get the 23-year-old to Minnesota as soon as possible, collaborating with his agent to hash out the visa logistics.
“It feels really good to get this done,” Guerin said. “We’re excited to have Kirill in the mix.”
Even though he can’t suit up for the team’s upcoming postseason, which starts Aug. 2 with a best-of-five qualifying series against Vancouver, Kaprizov can practice and travel to Edmonton for the games.
That’s why the Wild was willing to sign Kaprizov and burn the first year of his contract.
“He’s got a great personality, very outgoing,” said Guerin, who believes forward Alex Galchenyuk speaks some Russian and can help translate. “Funny things happen when you’re just surrounded by other guys in the locker room and you’re hockey players, you figure out a way to communicate. I think that’ll be really good for him, just to be surrounded by these guys.”
Kaprizov won’t be paid for this season, but he will earn $832,500 next season and receive a $92,500 signing bonus. He can also pocket up to $925,000 in performance bonuses.
Once he’s done with this contract, Kaprizov can only negotiate and sign with the Wild and will be ineligible for an offer sheet from another team. He also won’t have arbitration rights.
When he does officially make his debut, Kaprizov will wear No. 97 and he could become the NHL’s next highlight machine.
He not only scored the most goals in the Kontinental Hockey League in each of the past two seasons, most recently racking up 33, he became the youngest player in KHL history to record 100 career goals when he hit the mark in October as a 22-year-old.
He’s also a winner, claiming the Gagarin Cup with CSKA Moscow in 2018-19 and capturing Olympic gold with Russia in 2018 after scoring the overtime game-winning goal in the final game. In that tournament, he tied for first in goals (five) and tied for second in scoring (nine).
“I’ve seen highlights of him, obviously, scoring goals and what have you,” coach Dean Evason said. “But what I was most impressed with was when he went into corners or a 50-50 puck against another guy, he came up with those pucks. And if he didn’t, he was competing his butt off to do that. That’s exciting to me.”
Winger Kevin Fiala’s partnership with Evason predates the Wild, as the two worked together in the Nashville organization when Evason coached Fiala in the minors, and Fiala was glad Evason was appointed the permanent head coach Monday.
“Everybody was happy,” Fiala said. “I think everybody feels the same way I feel about Dean. He was an assistant coach here for a couple of years, and last year when I came, everybody liked him. He is a great communicator. Everybody can talk to him.”
Back to work
Evason was encouraged by the pace during the first practice of camp, but he also told players to let him know how they’re feeling and if they need to ease up.
“It’s not a bad thing if a guy comes in and says, ‘Geez, that was hard,’ and maybe we’ve got to cut it back,” he said. “We’ll communicate with the guys because they’re the ones that are skating. They’ll dictate.”
The first session featured 25 players, the Wild’s roster plus Iowa Wild players Gerry Mayhew, Nico Sturm, Louie Belpedio and Matt Bartkowski.