As the Wild clings to the fringes of the Western Conference playoff race, the likely reality of its season comes into sharper focus: Minnesota is probably not consistently good enough to finish in the top eight, but it is also not bad enough to get a high draft pick to jump-start a rebuild.
That particular predicament, which I've written about before, is summarized daily by the site hockeyviz.com with an appropriately titled feature called "sadness."
The sadness report indicates how likely a team is to both miss the playoffs AND not get a top-five draft pick. The Wild is among the saddest teams, at a 63% chance of both those things happening.
In the midst of that sadness, though, there was a renewed strand of hope.
ESPN.com talked to seven players in the Kontinental Hockey League, asking them questions about the league and hockey in general, and released results of that survey.
The most relevant and interesting question to Wild fans came when this question was posed:
Which KHL player will be the next big star in North America?
Six of the players picked Kirill Kaprizov, the 2015 Wild draft pick who could provide an infusion of talent at Xcel Energy Center soon. The only thing keeping the question from being a seven-player sweep is that Kaprizov himself was the other player surveyed.
"Thank you, we'll see," Kaprizov told ESPN.com when learning that he was the unanimous choice of his polled peers.
Some of the kudos from his fellow KHL players, per ESPN:
Stephane Da Costa: "I'd probably just say Kaprizov right now, he's a really big star. He's really good with the puck, he protects the puck well, he has good vision. He's overall a really great player."
Nigel Dawes: "Kaprizov. I think everyone sees it. It's kind of a no-brainer. He's a great player, he's done a lot already in his young career. I'm sure he'll face some challenges going over to North America, but the way he plays the game and the type of guy he is, and his character, I think he'll have a lot of success in the NHL."
Ilya Sorokin: "Kaprizov. His hockey intellect is very high. He has a good shot, as well as good vision."
Kaprizov, playing for CSKA Moscow, leads the KHL with 23 goals (in 44 games). He was a fifth-round pick of the Wild in 2015 and is still just 22.
His potential arrival in Minnesota — on track for as soon as next season — is the stuff of dreams for Wild fans starved for a star and staring at the prospect of a rebuild in the midst of a tumble into mediocrity.
New Wild GM Bill Guerin went to see Kaprizov in Moscow in early December and came away impressed.
"He's extremely talented," Guerin said at the time. "He made plays. He's not afraid to go play in traffic. There's a lot to like."
The fact that every player polled picked him as the next KHL-to-NHL star doesn't guarantee anything, of course — just ask Timberwolves fans who waited for Ricky Rubio's arrival from overseas, only to find out he had flaws and couldn't cure all that ailed that organization.
But a little optimism sure beats sadness.