In four seconds and about 75 feet, Kirill Kaprizov confirmed the hype.

He corralled an outlet pass through the neutral zone, accelerated behind the defense and then faked forehand to backhand before stuffing the puck in the net.

The creativity, know-how and quickness — all of it was captured in one play during a Wild training camp scrimmage.

But those skills weren't all Kaprizov imported from Russia.

He also brought his joy with him.

"He's happy all the time," captain Jared Spurgeon said.

After years of intrigue, uncertainty and anticipation, the Wild is finally waking up to its future.

Kaprizov is on the team and will make his NHL debut Thursday at Los Angeles in the season opener.

The 23-year-old rookie is the centerpiece of a reimagined Wild lineup clamoring for the prosperity the organization and its fan base hoped his arrival would signal. But Minnesota wasn't alone in waiting for that moment to get here.

This has also been Kaprizov's countdown to playing and perhaps starring in the best hockey league in the world. And now that dream is his reality.

"I just want to get on the ice and play," Kaprizov said in Russian through a translator.

First impression

From the time Kaprizov stepped on the ice at age 4, he loved hockey.

His parents introduced him to the sport, and although his older brother quit and took up soccer, Kaprizov was hooked.

"The rest is history," he said.

He played junior hockey and eventually represented the national team. At the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, he scored five goals. The following year, he had a strong showing at the Under-18 World Championship that also featured Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk and Patrik Laine.

Kaprizov was a known player in Russia, and the Wild scouted him in person. He was undersized but thick — he's now 5-9, 185 pounds — and his hockey IQ and competitiveness was apparent. The team had him high on its list, in the second round, and projected him as a top-six forward.

"He had a great arsenal of offensive tools," said Ricard Persson, the Wild's director of European scouting who was a European scout at the time.

But because of his size and the fact he had a contract in Russia, the Wild felt he would slide in the draft. And when the fifth round began on June 27, 2015, inside the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., the Wild nabbed him 135th overall — using a pick it acquired on the draft floor in a trade with Boston to complete the acquisition.

"We liked him a lot," Persson said.

Coincidental connection

Even before he was drafted, Kaprizov already had a Minnesota connection.

He was playing pro for his hometown team in Novokuznetsk and was befriended by a pair of former Gophers, Cade Fairchild and Ryan Stoa.

After college and stints in the minors and NHL, the pair played in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2014, and Kaprizov became their teammate.

Kaprizov was like a little brother to the two; they ate lunch together and faced off in ping-pong. Fairchild and Stoa also taught Kaprizov some English, and the three worked together after practice — setting Kaprizov up for one-timers and running passing plays. Kaprizov wasn't big-time yet in the hockey world, but Fairchild and Stoa spotted his potential.

"The game is easy to him," Fairchild said. "It's like second nature. His hockey sense is just through the roof. He's one of those guys the puck always seems to find his stick in the right spot. After the first couple times, you're like, 'Well, that was a lucky bounce.' And then after a while, it keeps happening over and over and you realize some guys are better than other guys, being in the right spot at the right time, and he always seemed to be that guy."

Year-by-year: Kaprizov's stats in Russia

Still, Kaprizov was a teenager; he didn't play much and when he did, he was relegated to the fourth line. Fairchild and Stoa even went into the coach's office begging him to let Kaprizov play with them, but they were told he had to put in his time.

More opportunity came the following season, after Kaprizov had been crowned an NHL prospect by the Wild. He tied for the team lead in scoring, graduated to a more prominent club in Ufa and continued his ascent.

"He's obviously a super-skilled guy, but he backchecks and plays hard and he loves to win," Fairchild said. "He's the ultimate competitor."

Kaprizov kept in touch with Stoa, who remained in the KHL while Fairchild moved on to Sweden. The two even met up for lunch and dinner when their teams played each other.

"He's right up there with any of the guys I've ever played with just in terms of raw skill, and he plays the game the right way," said Fairchild, who is from Duluth. "He plays hard, and he plays both ends and his skill offensively is incredible. I'm excited for the people of Minnesota to see it."

Waiting game

The Wild watched as Kaprizov took off.

He captained Russia's 2017 World Juniors squad in Montreal, crushing the tournament with nine goals in seven games. A year later, he sealed a gold medal for Russia at the Olympics with an overtime game-winner. His five goals overall were tied for the most at the Winter Games, where he was the youngest player to crack the team's roster.

"He's a huge name in Russia," said Viktor Tikhonov, whose grandfather of the same name coached the Soviet teams that dominated international hockey in the late 1970s and 1980s. "He's a national hero here."

In the KHL, Kaprizov became a regular in the league's All-Star Game. He led the KHL in goals in 2019 (30) and 2020 (33) and became the youngest player in league history to reach 100 when he hit the mark at 22, shattering the previous record by nearly three years.

"He may not look like a big guy, but he's really strong one-on-one in battles," said Tikhonov, who competed against Kaprizov in the KHL. "He's just a player that every time we play against him, before the game our coach will point out on video, 'Watch this guy. Watch this guy.' He's always dangerous and just playing against him, I know it's not fun to be on the other side."

As he was surging, the Wild had a tough time communicating directly with Kaprizov, and the team was concerned about how long it would take him to come over to the NHL.

Kaprizov continued to sign in the KHL, joining CSKA Moscow, and while he was there, then-General Manager Chuck Fletcher visited Russia. So did his successor, Paul Fenton, and then his replacement.

When Bill Guerin was hired as GM in August 2019, he was well-aware of Kaprizov. He remembered him from that 2015 draft.

"Then the mystery started, 'When is this kid coming over?' " Guerin said. "Everybody in the league knew that Minnesota had this kid in Russia, and it was a big deal and when are they going to get him because he's supposed to be pretty good?"

Guerin went to Moscow in December 2019 with the objective of connecting with Kaprizov. The trip was a success, and Guerin left feeling confident Kaprizov could make the transition to the Wild.

"I'm sure he was kind of like, 'What the hell is going on with Minnesota?'" Guerin said, referring to the turnover in management. "So I just wanted to make sure he knew things were solidified [and] we were going in the right direction."

And once his KHL contract expired last year, Kaprizov didn't renew it.

Instead, he signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Wild on July 13.

A month later, he touched down in Minnesota.

Making a move

Kaprizov's tour of the Twin Cities in August was his first time in the United States.

He met some of his new teammates, checked out the area and went for lunch with Guerin and owner Craig Leipold.

By then, he'd already been in contact with Spurgeon. And Kaprizov stayed in touch, inquiring if the season was really going to happen.

"All he wants to do is finally get into a game," Spurgeon said.

Even before the NHL finalized its return, settling on a 56-game, division-based season, Kaprizov was back in Minnesota.

The team helped him find a place to live, and he started working out with teammates at Tria Rink.

Spurgeon had him over for dinner, and Kaprizov was back at Spurgeon's house on Christmas Day where he watched Russia's first game at the World Junior Championship.

"He has pretty good English," Spurgeon said. "There's times where he's searching for the word. He knows it in Russian, obviously, and he's trying to figure out what one it is to use over here. But I think for the most part, he's pretty easy to have a conversation with as long as you keep it simple."

Where the adjustment has gone smoother is on the ice.

"Hockey's the easy part," Guerin said. "The guys all speak that language."

During camp, Kaprizov lived up to his reputation: strong on his stick when he has the puck, tenacious when he doesn't and utterly dynamic when he discovers open space. The right winger is on the top line next to Zach Parise and Nick Bjugstad and a focal point of the No. 1 power play unit, but the Wild has kept his assignment straightforward.

"Compete every night," coach Dean Evason said. "Just compete and that's it. You see his battle level out there and you see his strength. He's gonna put himself in position with that work ethic to have success."

Signature smile

Even though the Wild is trying to tame expectations, the spotlight will find Kaprizov.

It always has.

He hasn't thought much about the pressure and doesn't have any specific targets for the season. Later, when the time comes, he'll gauge his Calder Trophy candidacy as the NHL's best rookie.

For now, though, he's focusing on the team and what he can control — like his performance, and Kaprizov knows he needs to deliver.

"My goal is really about the team and just fitting in and doing my best," Kaprizov said.

Camp kept him busy, and he's felt calm in the lead-up to his first game in which his No. 97 jersey will roam the ice at Staples Center. Kaprizov figures nerves will turn up as he gets closer to puck drop, but he's also excited.

And along with the speed and the stickwork and the shot, that is Kaprizov's trademark.

It's how Fairchild knew Kaprizov hadn't changed from their days as teammates, picking up on that exuberance when he saw a video clip of Kaprizov's highlight-reel goal from the scrimmage.

"He's always been that way," Fairchild said. "He's always got a smile on his face."