Throughout its history, the Wild has searched for a gamebreaker – that skilled offensive player who can take over a contest, maybe score 50 goals in a season and fill seats at Xcel Energy Center on his potential alone. Think Ovechkin, Crosby, McDavid. They’re tough to find, especially if you’re not drafting No. 1 overall.
The Wild came close with Marian Gaborik, the speedy Slovakian who took over the 2003 playoffs, scored five goals in a 2007 game and tantalized with his talent. Problem was, Gaborik constantly battled groin injuries and the team’s front office, eventually leaving via free agency after eight seasons in Minnesota.
Kevin Fiala might have potential to someday join that gamebreaker category, as his 23 goals and 31 assists in 64 games this season attest. Still, a bigger sample size is needed from the soon-to-be 24-year-old who was acquired from Nashville in the Mikael Granlund trade.
That brings us to the latest hope, Kirill Kaprizov, the 2015 fifth-round draft pick who’s captured the attention of every long-suffering Wild fan. Kaprizov’s pedigree is impressive – Olympic gold medal-clinching goal in 2018, frequent highlight-reel tallies and a 33-goal, 29-assist performance in a 57-game KHL season for CSKA Moscow this year.
The potential and mystery surrounding Kaprizov are intriguing, and that’s what makes his situation maddening to the Wild faithful.
When Kaprizov’s KHL contract ended April 30, the plan seemed simple. He could sign his entry-level contract with the Wild, then debut in the NHL playoffs this summer once the season resumed. After all, college players have been allowed to sign once their season ended and join their NHL club in time for the playoffs. Cale Makar’s strong debut with the Colorado Avalanche last year is a perfect example.
The NHL, however, appears to think otherwise in these coronavirus-stricken times. According to Bob McKenzie, the respected insider for Canadian network TSN, players who had not signed with their NHL team before the season was suspended likely won’t be allowed to play in the playoffs this summer. This is a category in which Kaprizov and other high-end NHL prospects reside. The new collective bargaining agreement hasn’t been finalized and things can change, but it appears the wait for Kaprizov in Minnesota will continue.
That’s unfortunate for the Wild because it adds uncertainty as to when the Russian phenom actually will play in Minnesota. Would he be able or want to sign a 2019-20 contract and wait to make his debut in a 2020-21 season that likely would begin this winter? Would he instead re-sign for a year with CSKA Moscow? Nothing is clear yet.
It’s easy to envision how the two-time leading goal-scorer in the KHL could immediately impact the Wild, especially in the best-of-five play-in series between Minnesota and Vancouver. Unless the NHL has a change of heart, that won’t happen. The Wild’s wait for that gamebreaker continues.