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Wild star Kirill Kaprizov proving to be more than a goal-scorer

He’s found ways to dominate as a distributor this season en route to a team-high 16 assists.

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Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97) looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks in the third period of an Oct. 7, 2021, game at Xcel Energy Center. David Berding / USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL -- When the Minnesota Wild signed budding superstar Kirill Kaprizov to a five-year, $45 million contract this offseason, make no mistake, they were paying him to be an elite goal scorer.

He flashed his potential as a rookie last season with 27 goals in a condensed, 56-game schedule. Just imagine the type of damage the 24-year-old winger could do across a full 82-game schedule.

A month and a half into this season, however, Kaprizov hasn’t been scoring goals at the same rapid rate. He’s getting increased attention from opposing teams on a nightly basis and, thus, has been bottled up for prolonged stretches.

A cause for concern? Not at all. In fact, the way Kaprizov has handled the increased attention proves he has what it takes to be a superstar. Take away his time and space? It doesn’t faze him. He’s found ways to dominate as a distributor this season on the way to a team-high 16 assists.

“He understands and recognizes the opening might not be there for him,” coach Dean Evason said. “That’s why he’s getting other people those opportunities. Because they’re all concentrated on him.”

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Asked about his ability as a playmaker, Kaprizov replied through a translator, “That’s the way the game’s going right now.”

Kaprizov isn’t focused on how many goals or assists he has to his name, just how many wins his team has.

“The opportunities have been there to make assists,” he said. “The same thing could happen with goals. They will start coming in (bunches). I’m not worried about it.”

Why should he be? He has proven to be a goal-scorer at every level. Plus, after a relatively slow start to this season, at least by his standards, he’s starting to heat up.

In Friday afternoon’s 7-1 win over the rival Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center, Kaprizov finished with a goal and three assists. He had the same stat line last week against the Dallas Stars and proved highly effective on the recent East Coast road trip.

That success has come thanks in large part to best bud Mats Zuccarello. To say Kaprizov and Zuccarello work well together would be putting it lightly. They developed instant chemistry last season, and now with Ryan Hartman centering them, the Wild have a top line that can put up goals in bunches.

“They just find each other,” Hartman said. “I try to get to the front of the net when they have the puck in the zone, which brings one or two defenders to the front of the net, and that kind of opens up the zone for them. I’ve played with some skill guys in the past, and they’ve told me just get to the net and they’ll do the rest. It’s very similar to that, just trying to create space for them and at the same time make plays when given.”

As for Kaprizov, he’s clearly enjoying himself at that moment. He looked right at home on Friday afternoon at the X. Never mind the stellar performance. After being named the No. 1 star for his efforts — for good reason — he flashed a big smile to the announced crowd of 19,133.

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He’s right where he belongs.

“It’s awesome playing in front of fans. Especially at home games,” Kaprizov said. “In warmups, we come out and see everybody. We can give someone a stick or a puck and interact with the fans. It’s an amazing experience.”

Whether he’s scoring goals or dishing out assists, the same thing can be said about watching Kaprizov on a nightly basis.

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Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov takes a shot against the Colorado Avalance on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Denver. Ron Chenoy / USA Today Sports
USA TODAY Sports

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