A new contract might not be the only change for Kirill Kaprizov this season.

After playing much of his rookie campaign with center Victor Rask and winger Mats Zuccarello, Kaprizov will start with Zuccarello and Joel Eriksson Ek.

Kaprizov wasn't on the ice Thursday for the first practices of Wild training camp, needing to test negative for COVID-19 one more time, but he's expected to participate Friday when the team reconvenes at Tria Rink in St. Paul.

"Ekker, he's a smart, good player," Zuccarello said. "He works so hard, is strong on the puck. So for me, I'm real excited to be with him right now and we'll see what happens in the future."

Reuniting Kaprizov and Zuccarello isn't a surprise.

The two seemed to have instant chemistry, with Zuccarello assisting on a third of Kaprizov's team-high 27 goals last season and Kaprizov having a hand in more than half of Zuccarello's 11 tallies.

While they filled out a productive trio with Rask, Eriksson Ek scored a career-high 19 goals mostly alongside wingers Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno — a line that was a force at both ends of the rink for the Wild.

Now, though, Eriksson Ek will have a chance to flex that 200-foot prowess between two of the team's most skilled forwards in Zuccarello and Kaprizov, who signed a five-year, $45 million contract on Tuesday.

"His game has grown every year, so we think no question he's got more to give," coach Dean Evason said of Eriksson Ek, who landed an eight-year, $42 million commitment from the Wild in the offseason after his breakout performance. "What doesn't he give? He gives everything every night. We expect and anticipate that his offense will continue to get better and better."

New protocols

All Wild players are vaccinated, General Manager Bill Guerin said, and that will allow the team to return to a more normal setup this season.

Under the NHL's updated COVID protocols, unvaccinated players will undergo more frequent testing, are limited to the team hotel, arena and practice facility on the road and can be suspended if they are unable to participate in club activities like practices, games and travel. Players would be docked a day's pay for each day missed.

"Everybody's excited," Guerin said. "I had a meeting with the guys [Wednesday], and it was nice to have everybody in the room. Nobody had to wear a mask or anything like that. It was good. We're all moving forward. It feels great."

Olympic opportunity

NHLers have been given the green light to play in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, which will be their first appearance since 2014 in Sochi, and the Wild could be well represented.

Kevin Fiala (Switzerland), Nico Sturm (Germany), Kaprizov (Russia), Eriksson Ek and Jonas Brodin (Sweden) are possible participants. Zuccarello competed for Norway this summer in the Olympics qualifiers, but his country failed to advance.

"I've never been on the Olympics [team], but I just heard great things," Fiala said. "It's very fun that we can go."

Guerin will be involved as an assistant GM for Team USA.

"I'm thrilled that we're going," said Guerin, a three-time Olympian as a player. "I just think it's such a great opportunity for everybody involved. There's nothing better for a hockey player putting on the jersey for your country whether you're American or Russian or Canadian or Finnish. It's a big honor. I think everybody's looking forward to it.

"It'll be a great experience."


The Wild invited defensemen Turner Ottenbreit, Doyle Somerby and Keaton Thompson to camp on professional tryouts.