Despite his point-per-game pace, Wild star Kirill Kaprizov is struggling a week and a half into his sophomore season in the NHL.
At least by the lofty standards that come with being the highest paid player in franchise history.
After getting a five-year, $45 million deal this offseason, which he didn’t sign until the eve of training camp, Kaprizov’s output so far has left something to be desired. The 24-year-old Russian doesn’t have a goal in the Wild’s first five games, and while his five assists have certainly been impactful, the Wild need more from their budding superstar.
Most of his struggles through the first week were masked by the fact that the Wild pulled off miraculous comeback after miraculous comeback. It also helped that Kaprizov posted a career-high three assists in a thrilling 6-5 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets last week.
But if someone actually went backed and watched every shift Kaprizov has taken throughout the Wild’s 4-1-0 start, it becomes clear that he hasn’t been at the top of his game. It was especially evident in Sunday’s humbling 5-2 home loss to the Nashville Predators.
Kaprizov has been rather careless with the puck, constantly trying to dangle through traffic in the offensive zone, rather than make the simple play to his teammates.
He also has just 13 shots on goal this season, which needless to say, isn’t nearly enough for a guy who has hands-down the best release on the team. For comparison purposes, defenseman Matt Dumba has 21 shots on goal in five games.
All of those issues, according to coach Dean Evason, stem from the fact that Kaprizov is taking it upon himself to be a difference-maker night in and night out. After posting 27 goals and 24 assists as a rookie, winning the Calder Trophy, then holding out for a massive contract this offseason, Kaprizov knows expectations are sky high.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that he wants to live up to the hype. It’s just not the most effective way for him to go about his business.
“He’s trying to do too much,” Evason said after Sunday’s game. “You could ask him, too, and I bet he says the exact same thing. We had a little chat with him before the game tonight. I know he recognizes it.”
It will be interesting to see how Kaprizov works his way out of this funk. Though he had his fair share of goal-scoring droughts last season, and always responded with a flurry, he is getting more attention from opponents on the ice than ever before this season.
“All five guys on the ice are watching for him,” Evason said. “If you try to beat people 1 on 1, it usually turns over.”
That has been the case for Kaprizov more often than not this season. Not that the Wild seem too worried about his struggles continuing for too much longer.
“He’s a gritty guy,” Evason said. “He’ll figure it out.”
How does he go about doing that?
“Just simplify,” Evason said. “We know he can get in on a forecheck and he can finish his check. That’s what he’s got to to do first and then worry about the pretty passes and the pretty plays after.”