The news broke on Friday that Kirill Kaprizov would be staying in Russia for an extra three years, and the reaction from Minnesota Wild fans was swift and decisive.
And that’s probably the proper reaction. With the Wild trading away Alex Tuch to Vegas and fully promoting Joel Eriksson Ek, Gustav Olofsson and Mike Reilly this season, along with Luke Kunin, Mario Lucia and others likely not far behind, the Wild prospect pool is going from thin but solid to a barren wasteland of talent quickly. Kaprizov was the caveat to that, a Russian dynamo stolen in the fifth round two summers ago, more than holding his own as a boy amongst men in the KHL.
Kaprizov was the first overall pick in the KHL before the Wild took a flier on him — at the time — in the fifth round. Since then, he’s produced rather well for such a young player in likely the second most competitive league in the world. Following a trade last offseason from Metallurg to Salavat Yulaev, he saw his points increase from 27 in 53 games to 42 in just 49 games this past season. Given that kind of growth and a very strong showing at the IIHF Juniors tourney, it was believed we’d be seeing him sooner rather than later.
The widespread belief from most Wild fans and the organization itself is that Kaprizov would cross the pond (whichever pond you prefer) after his current KHL contract was up. Those hopes took an eyebrow-raising hit when he was traded to KHL powerhouse CSKA this summer, and may have been dealt a deathblow when he was offered a three-year extension for roughly $1 million USD this past week, which he apparently has yet to accept, depending on what Russia media report you believe (and if you don’t believe any, it’s really hard to blame you).
So with the news, it’s easy for Wild fans to be disappointed. Kaprizov was supposed to be the savior of the scoring, the Goalscorer Jesus that the Wild still desperately need. The Wild have a relatively decent top nine in place but could definitely use an upgrade somewhere, and maybe most importantly, something different. Kaprizov could slide right onto the third line right now, indifferent to the recently acquired Tyler Ennis or Marcus Foligno.
Without him, the Wild need to wait a little longer to add some scoring punch to a salary cap strapped squad.
But it’s not all bad. Kaprizov is young — very young — and getting more development time in the KHL certainly won’t hurt him, especially playing an important role on a relatively good team over there. While it’s easy to want to fast track him because of his talent, keep in mind that while he was in the same draft class as Eriksson Ek, he’s also in the same class as Jordan Greenway, Alex Stezka and Jack Sadek, none of whom are even playing professionally yet and don’t figure to play in St. Paul for at least two more seasons, at best. Even if he’s held over in Russia for the full three years, he’d still be arriving in the NHL at the ripe age of 23, which isn’t exactly ancient.
Also, that’s assuming he does stay for the full three seasons. This extension by CSKA might just be a bit of an unintentional insurance policy on Kaprizov. Kaprizov’s points per 60 minutes in the KHL last season was 3.31, which would be elite in the NHL, but he’s obviously not facing the same level of competition in Russia. More time in the KHL will not only give Kaprizov time to develop, but time for the Wild to get a better feel if he’s as elite as everyone thinks he is. If he’s the game-changing scorer we all think he is, he should be tearing up the KHL sooner rather than later, especially on a talent-laden team like CSKA.
If he does become that star, the smart thing for him to do at some point would be to jump to the NHL where he can make much more money. Only roughly 20 players in the KHL, not even one full All-Star team worth, makes more than $2 million USD, which is well known as paltry cash for NHL players. While it’d be easy for Kaprizov to play the staying home card, the money that he can make here, and quite frankly the prospect of not living in Russia might just be too alluring for him to pass up. Rather than him coming to the states next summer and playing in Iowa briefly next season, he stays in Russia until it’s obvious that he’s an NHL regular or better and has even more leverage on his entry-level deal. The issue there would be buying out his KHL contract at that time, depending on where he was in that contract, similar to what Minnesota sports fans saw with Ricky Rubio being bought out of his Spanish team contract several years ago.
Would everyone prefer Kaprizov come over next summer and be under Wild control sooner rather than later? Of course, don’t be silly. This isn’t an argument that Kaprizov staying in Russia is the best case scenario, but it seems to be the scenario that the Wild are dealing with now, and it isn’t a death sentence for Kaprizov’s chances to be a productive player in the NHL, while still under age 25. He may or may not compare to Artemi Panarin, but the situations are somewhat similar, and Blackhawks fans definitely didn’t mind getting the Bread Man at age 23, and Blue Jacket fans are definitely not disappointed getting him on a long term deal now at 25.
Disappointment is natural and almost a knee-jerk reaction from Wild fans at this point. Being disappointed about the Wild missing out on Kaprizov for a little longer is understandable, but given the current roster and Kaprizov’s age, there could be worse things for the Wild. The hope that The Ghostface Kirilla will play in Minnesota is still alive, and some things are worth the wait.