Much of the focus is on how the Wild will tackle the second half of the season now that it finally has a healthy roster at its disposal, with Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres its first full-strength look.
But the organization is also keeping tabs on its pipeline.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher recently visited Russia, meeting prized prospect Kirill Kaprizov — currently playing for CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League — for the first time.
“What a great kid,” said Fletcher, who left on New Year’s Eve and returned to the Twin Cities on Thursday. “He always has a smile on his face, seems to love hockey, love life. Just a lot of energy to him, very positive.”
Fletcher took in Kaprizov’s game Wednesday and also met with fellow prospect Andrei Svetlakov along with Kaprizov’s agent, Dan Milstein. Svetlakov, who was drafted in the sixth round with the 178th pick in 2017, also suits up for CSKA Moscow, and Fletcher wanted a chance to get to know the two and thought it was important he chat with them.
While in Moscow, Fletcher talked to Kaprizov and Svetlakov about the Wild and how the team believed the duo could fit into the group in the future. Last summer, Kaprizov signed a three-way contract with CSKA Moscow.
Since then, the 20-year-old has continued to flash the potential that intrigued the organization when it drafted him in the fifth round (135th overall) in 2015. Through 38 games, Kaprizov has scored 15 goals while racking up 36 points.
Last season, Kaprizov reached the 20-goal plateau and amassed 42 points in the KHL while also dazzling at the World Junior Championship. As Russia’s captain, Kaprizov tallied nine goals, finished with 12 points and was recognized as the tournament’s best forward after helping Russia capture bronze.
“He’s a dynamic player,” said Fletcher, who anticipates he’ll try to visit Kaprizov and Svetlakov every winter coming up. “He has tremendous hockey sense and makes plays, has a very quick release on his shot and he always works hard. He’s very competitive.”
The start time for the Wild’s home game against the Canucks on Jan. 14 has been pushed back one hour, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., to accommodate the Vikings’ playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Kickoff against either the Rams, Saints or Panthers is set for 3:40 p.m.
Back to his roots
Thursday was South St. Paul native Phil Housley’s first appearance at Xcel Center since taking over behind the Sabres’ bench.
“I was born and raised right across the river here,” Housley said. “Growing up like a lot of young kids starting their skating outdoors and eventually moving onto traveling teams and sharing something special with your community, I’m very proud to be from South St. Paul. There’s a lot of hockey tradition there.”
Iowa Wild forward Luke Kunin was named to the Central Division team for the AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 29 in Utica, N.Y.
Through 20 games with Iowa, Kunin had seven goals and 11 points, with nine of those points coming since Kunin was returned to the AHL in November following a 17-game stint with the Wild.
Kunin is the fourth player in team history to earn an invite, joining former Iowa players Alex Tuch, Matt Dumba and Gustav Olofsson.
Winger Chris Stewart was the first odd forward out since the Wild regained full health, sitting against the Sabres.
Fellow winger Nino Niederreiter made his return to the lineup Thursday after missing the previous five games because of a left ankle injury. Niederreiter lined up next to captain Mikko Koivu and winger Mikael Granlund and made an almost immediate impact, opening the scoring only 1 minute, 9 seconds after puck drop on his way to a hat trick.
• Vikings quarterback Case Keenum took in Thursday’s game and was presented with a No. 7 Wild jersey with “Keenum” on the back.