Four-plus months and a summer-long negotiation later, Kirill Kaprizov was back in action for the Wild.
And the NHL's reigning Rookie of the Year picked up where he left off, spearheading the team's offense.
Kaprizov scored the game-winning goal and picked up two assists in his preseason debut, a 3-1 victory for the Wild over the Avalanche on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center.
"Players like that, their aerobic capacity is just incredible," coach Dean Evason said. "We doubled him a couple of times tonight, two times, right after he had a long shift, and I looked down at him and there's no heavy breathing. It's just like he's ready to go.
"He's in great shape."
After this latest tune-up, all the Wild's regulars have now skated in a preseason game.
Aside from Kaprizov, the top four on defense also made its first appearance – including a new-look No. 1 unit featuring captain Jared Spurgeon and offseason pickup Alex Goligoski.
Since Kaprizov was off the ice in the leadup to training camp while ironing out his new contract, a blockbuster five-year, $45 million deal, the Wild wanted to give him more time to get up to speed before inserting him into the lineup.
A chunk of the Wild's expected starters played last Thursday at Colorado, including Kaprizov's linemates Mats Zuccarello and Joel Eriksson Ek. But the three finally connected in the rematch with the Avalanche, and the combination worked; Kaprizov tallied three points, Zuccarello had two assists and Eriksson Ek one.
"Zuccy and Kirill's movement is fantastic," Evason said. "But if there's someone else moving, too, then there's nobody in front of the net. Ek obviously gets to the net. We think Ekky fits perfect."
Before Kaprizov polished off a give-and-go with Zuccarello with 51 seconds to go in the second period, he was in the setup position and sent the puck to Spurgeon, who buried the pass behind former Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper to open the scoring 14 seconds into the second.
Then, in the third period, Kaprizov fed Jonas Brodin for a shot through traffic at 4:24. Alex Newhook scored for Colorado 13:17 into the third. Kaapo Kahkonen had 15 saves for the Wild, while Kuemper had 29.
This effort by Kaprizov was an accurate recap of how his first season with the Wild went.
With a team-high 27 goals and 24 assists, production that helped him nab the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie, Kaprizov had a direct hand in creating almost as many goals as he potted – a nod to his finishing skills around the net and his playmaking abilities.
Once again, both were on display for the Wild.
"I'm excited to go into the season," Zuccarello said. "Hopefully we can keep it going."
The Kaprizov-Eriksson Ek-Zuccarello line wasn't the only one to debut Monday.
Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno teamed up with Ryan Hartman for the first time in the preseason, the trio the Wild will count on to be a two-way force after Greenway and Foligno played that role to a tee last season with Eriksson Ek.
And so far, the group looks like it has the potential to live up to that billing.
All three established pressure on the forecheck and around the goal mouth, and they also took turns on the penalty kill.
"Hartzy's pretty easy to play with," Greenway said. "He does a good job in the middle. He played a similar game to how [Foligno] and I do. So, it wasn't too hard. There's things, timing, that we'll find as the time goes on, as we play more. But I thought today we did a lot of good things."
Fiala on the PK
Kevin Fiala wants to be an all-around factor for the Wild, not just a scorer, and he is getting the chance to showcase that range.
For the second consecutive preseason game, Fiala helped out on the penalty kill — a unit he contributed to sparingly last season.
"He's got tremendous instincts of what offensive players are going to do," Evason said. "He's got a great stick. We found when we used him that little bit there last year, it commits him defensively."