Jim Souhan
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The most promising moment in Wild history arrived on July 4, 2012.

A team that had missed the playoff for four consecutive seasons, that had made only one playoff run since its inception, that had winnowed its fan base to hockey loyalists and admirers of Xcel Energy Center, pulled off its greatest off-ice upset.

The Wild emerged from a negotiating battle with many of the NHL's best franchises to sign two All-Star caliber players, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

This was not only a surprise and an immediate boost to the Wild's hopes, it was a story perfectly curated for the Minnesota hockey fan.

Parise was returning home to play in front of his father, former North Star standout J.P. Parise, who lived in the Minneapolis suburbs.

Suter, a Wisconsinite whose father, Bob, played on Herb Brooks' "Miracle on Ice" team, was returning to the Midwest to be close to home.

Both had other, seemingly better, options. Both chose Minnesota. Both were talented players known for their work ethic.

The Wild got the deals done on July 4, ending months of speculation and anticipation and adding a holiday tenor to the introductory news conferences. Minnesota's passionate hockey fans reacted as if the Holy Grail had been unearthed.

The Wild had previously experienced one month worthy of celebration — the improbable run to the Western Conference finals in 2002-03. Now, it seemed, the mediocre upstart franchise with the bizarre mascot had become legitimate.

Parise and Suter helped the Wild make the playoffs the next six seasons. Any wild-eyed hopes that they would produce a Stanley Cup were always unrealistic. They took a bad franchise and made it competitive, which is about all that should have been expected of two players not named Crosby and Ovechkin.

In better times, the Wild's 2021 season opener Thursday night might have generated a fraction of the excitement of the Parise and Suter signings. Kevin Fiala has hinted at becoming a star. He is already the best all-around offensive talent the franchise has employed. On Thursday in Los Angeles, he will be joined for the first time by Kirill Kaprizov, the 135th pick in the 2015 draft.

Former Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher selected Kaprizov because of his offensive skills, and was able to take him so low in the draft because of the uncertainty that surrounds Russian prospects. Five years later, Kaprizov is signed and practicing with his new team, and the reviews from his teammates indicate that he is gifted.

Throughout franchise history, the Wild has desperately sought scoring. They won in the early years because of Jacques Lemaire's defensive genius, and the breakaway abilities of Marian Gaborik. They have desperately tried to find scorers of Gaborik's skill since he left after the 2009 season.

Fletcher in particular threw money, draft picks and trade assets at dozens of forwards in attempts to upgrade the Wild's scoring, with sporadic success.

Thursday night, the Wild will debut a team that has produced little hype around the NHL, but Wild fans know this could be something unique, something special.

Parise should this season become the team's career leading goal scorer. He is the best all-around player in franchise history. And if Fiala continues to develop and Kaprizov is as good as advertised, Parise might this season be the third-most talented forward on the Wild's top two lines.

That's not an insult to Parise, whose game is a gritty playing of percentages: Getting to the front of the net, burying rebounds, tipping shots. It's an acknowledgment that the Wild has never had two players such as Fiala and Kaprizov at the same time: Two players who can take the puck, beat a defense and create a goal with skill and speed. Gaborik was deadly on the breakaway but not a skilled puckhandler or playmaker.

Wild history is filled with goals banked off three ankles and games ending in 2-1 scores.

Fiala and Kaprizov could become the best scoring duo in Wild history.

They could make Wild hockey pretty. For the first time.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com