LAS VEGAS — One practice. That's all it took for Nick Bjugstad to realize his new Wild teammate Kirill Kaprizov wasn't another run-of-the-mill hockey player.
Kaprizov was special.
"I definitely saw a lot there just from his compete level," said Bjugstad, who hadn't watched Kaprizov before then. "Obviously, the skill, that's apparent. But for a skill guy like that, he works and digs and makes it hard in the corners. We kind of anticipated this."
Now, the rest of the NHL is catching on, and how could it not?
Kaprizov is the team's leading scorer and the sparkplug as the Wild catapulted into contention for the West Division crown. He's the runaway front-runner for the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie, receiving praise for his swashbuckling moves that have gone viral on the internet.
Kaprizov is also a fan favorite. He has his own T-shirt bearing his trademark grin, an exuberant smile that's becoming the vibe of the entire team.
The man has transcended the myth, with reality living up to the expectation that sustained the organization for so many years.
And Kaprizov has no idea.
"I don't really pay attention to it," he said.
Not only has his arrival been exhilarating for the Wild, but Kaprizov's start was unprecedented. He became the first player in NHL history with overtime points in each of his first two games.
The 23-year-old is the only Wild player to record three points in his first career game, and he needed the fewest games (14) to reach the 10-point plateau among Wild rookies.
Kaprizov was named the NHL's First Star after the opening week of the season and, although he was passed over for rookie of the month honors for January and February, his impact is undeniable.
Despite a rare pointless showing Monday in the 5-4 overtime loss to Vegas, Kaprizov still leads the Wild and all NHL rookies in points (17) and his 11 assists are also tops among rookies.
He's on pace to shatter the franchise record for assists and points in a season for a rookie and to tie Marian Gaborik's clip for goals (18).
"It's obviously very important for me and for any hockey player to make sure you get that confidence, that first goal and to just make sure you fit in and you belong here," Kaprizov said Tuesday in Russian through translator Ilya Kravtchouk during a virtual interview. "But after that, you kind of get situated and you really don't think about it. You just play the game, and you can play as hard as you can."
Where Kaprizov has really blossomed is alongside center Victor Rask and veteran winger Mats Zuccarello. That line combined for 24 points since it was formed six games ago. Zuccarello, in particular, looks like a natural complement to Kaprizov, with their playmaking in-sync.
"We clicked right off the bat," said Kaprizov, who mentioned Zuccarello's Russian is limited to "bad words." "Things just kind of seemed to work out. I also attribute that to having a very similar mind-set in terms of the way we play and the way we think about the game. We're very similar and kind of know where each other is."
With his line on a tear, the spotlight on Kaprizov has brightened.
Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan dubbed him a top rookie in the game if not the best, and Colorado broadcaster Peter McNab sounded in awe of Kaprizov after he skated circles around the Avalanche on Feb. 24, calling the effort "remarkable" and one of those "fun shifts to watch for just pure hockey skating skill."
Kaprizov also has the attention of his competition, with opponents starting to be more physical with him, including hassling him in between whistles.
But in typical Kaprizov fashion, he's unfazed by the pressure.
"He is not hesitant to step up and throw a cross-check back and then tell a guy to go kick rocks," said Ian Cole, the hard-nosed Wild defenseman who's actually talked with Kaprizov about how teams are going to handle him.
And by Kaprizov not getting rattled, the buzz surrounding him has intensified.
"I didn't go into the season having any expectations or any thoughts or goals," said Kaprizov, who came over to the NHL from the Kontinental Hockey League, an international league based in Russia, after the Wild drafted him in the fifth round in 2015. "I just wanted to play my best. And if I play my best and I make my teammates better and my teammates will play their best, things will work themselves out. But I just go out there and do my job and do it as best as I can and kind of let everything take care of itself. No expectations."
This unassuming demeanor has manifested on the ice, where Kaprizov best showcases his personality.
On the bench, he tends to stand in between shifts, almost leaning into the action as he appears to eagerly wait for his next turn.
After goals, his laugh leads the celebration.
"He says what everybody says after a goal," Ryan Suter said, "kind of a smile and, 'Nice pass. Nice play.' "
Those around him commend his English, and Kaprizov is learning more of the language through chats with teammates. While there's an occasional word or two he doesn't know, he understands every conversation.
"I'm not running into too many situations where I'm not getting anything," he said.
When it comes to hockey talk, Kaprizov is fluent and not every message has to be communicated with words — like the shirts printed with the "Dollar Bill Kirill" nickname given to Kaprizov by Matt Dumba, revealing just how much he's already endeared himself to his teammates.
"I walked in the locker room and everyone was wearing them," said Kaprizov, who was chuckling as he recounted his reaction. "Of course, it makes you feel good and a little shy even. I liked it. It was very cool."
Just the beginning
With that kind of happy-go-lucky outlook, it's been easy for Wild fans and the NHL to embrace Kaprizov, who is getting promoted by the league on its Twitter feed.
But it's his talent that's been most captivating, a unique ability that could continue to transform the Wild the rest of this season and beyond.
That's what this is about for Kaprizov, not the hoopla or the likes and the superlatives.
He's a hockey player trying to help his team.
And although he's done just that so far, he still wants to do better, even realizing one way he can improve.
"I just try to make the right play on the ice, but I have been told in the past by my father and by previous coaches to shoot a little bit more," he said. "I would like to try and shoot a little more. Sometimes I can make an extra pass. But I give you my word, I'll try and shoot more so I can score more goals."