Wild General Manager Bill Guerin grabbed the No. 97 sweater hanging behind him, and Kirill Kaprizov’s expression started to change.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Kaprizov said before breaking out in an ear-to-ear grin and giving a thumbs-up.
“It looks pretty good,” Guerin said. “Can’t wait to give this to you in person, Kirill.”
A jersey isn’t all that the Wild has in store for its top prospect.
After finally signing the 23-year-old to a two-year, entry-level contract on Monday, the team is working to bring Kaprizov to North America to help him get acclimated with the organization and the American lifestyle before he makes his NHL debut next season.
“Everything is new to me,” Kaprizov said Wednesday from Moscow through an interpreter during a video conference call. “I have never been there, so I am looking forward to this.”
Kaprizov’s arrival has been years in the making.
“I’m going to try to enjoy the game as much as I can and, while enjoying it, all the results are going to come by themselves regardless. That’s how I feel.”
The Russian star continued to play in the Kontinental Hockey League after getting drafted in the fifth round in 2015 by the Wild. With his contract with CSKA Moscow expiring after 2019-20, Kaprizov told team brass he wanted to join the Wild.
But the pause in the season because of the coronavirus pandemic made his availability uncertain.
In the end, as part of the collective bargaining agreement extension negotiated by the NHL and the players in conjunction with the league’s return later this summer, Kaprizov was able to sign a contract that begins this season despite him not being eligible to compete for the Wild in the 24-team postseason tournament.
He can, however, practice with the team and accompany it to Edmonton, where the Wild will square off against Vancouver in the qualifying round starting Aug. 2.
“I’m going to root for them to do their best,” Kaprizov said.
Although he won’t be paid for this season, Kaprizov will receive a $92,500 signing bonus to go along with $832,500 in salary for next season and has the potential to cash in on performance bonuses of up to $925,000. Once that deal expires, the 5-9, 185-pound winger can only negotiate and sign with the Wild and will be ineligible for an offer sheet from another team as long as the Wild extends him a qualifying offer. Kaprizov also wouldn’t have arbitration rights.
“He thought it was going to be much smoother process once the season was over there … but it took forever,” translator Alex Buzi said. “He’s grateful for his agent and for the team and for everybody who helped him in this process. He knows everybody’s waiting for him, and he can’t wait to put on the jersey himself as well. He hopes that’s going to happen sometime as soon as next week, and he’s really eager and excited to join the team.”
Not only does the Wild need to take care of the visa issue, which Guerin said “is not the easiest thing in the world right now,” but the team is also exploring different travel options for Kaprizov that could affect his quarantine requirements.
The next step
Already, though, he’s been in touch with the team — even hearing from defenseman Jared Spurgeon, which Kaprizov appreciated. He also noticed the stir he’s caused on social media among fans and figured they would want him to prove himself with the Wild. He feels the same way.
“I don’t think it will be a huge difference,” Kaprizov said. “Obviously, this is the best league in the world, and I have always looked forward [to playing in the NHL]. But it’s a game of hockey, and it’s just playing the game and enjoying it. I hope I am going to do really well.
“I’m really not the type of a person who’s really into how many goals I’m going to score or how many points. I’m going to try to enjoy the game as much as I can and, while enjoying it, all the results are going to come by themselves regardless. That’s how I feel.”
Aside from being a prolific scorer in the KHL — Kaprizov led the league in goals each of the past two seasons after most recently racking up 33 in 57 games — he’s also been a standout internationally.
In 2018, he scored the overtime game-winner to clinch gold for Russia at the Winter Olympics. He finished tied for first in goals (five) and tied for second in scoring (nine) in the tournament.
“Kirill is one of the guys that has a very high compete level as well, and that enables him to get into the middle of the ice and to not be a perimeter player,” Guerin said. “And that’s where he’s different from a lot of other guys. To get in those areas is extremely important to score goals, and he does that on a consistent basis.”
Away from home
Off the ice, Guerin plans to discuss with Kaprizov what he’ll need to have a smooth transition. This will be Kaprizov’s first time in the United States, but he’s somewhat familiar with Minnesota — associating it with “a lot of lakes,” fishing and “brutally cold” winters.
Forward Alex Galchenyuk has volunteered to be a resource even though he’s never met Kaprizov. Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee but also lived in Russia and speaks Russian.
“I’m sure he’s super excited, pumped up about it, but there’s definitely gonna be a lot of new things like the language barrier and I’m sure some food or whatever,” Galchenyuk said. “But it’s a great group of guys and whatever he needs, I’ll help him out. I’m sure he’ll be real comfortable.”
It took awhile for him to get to this point, and he still has to wait to suit up for a game.
But Kaprizov has his sights set on the Wild.
“He is ready for the new chapter,” Buzi said.