The Minnesota Wild wouldn’t be holding the top spot in the Western Conference by points percentage if it wasn’t for Kirill Kaprizov. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that he is a lock to make the 2022 NHL All-Star Game (Feb. 5 in Las Vegas). He even has a legitimate chance to captain the team, too.
All eyes were on the Russian star. After winning the Calder Trophy last season, he signed a five-year extension, virtually committing his prime years to Minnesota. Would there be a sophomore slump? It turns out that there hasn’t been. Kaprizov has been exhilarating in the first half of his second season, scoring 12 goals and 36 points in the first 30 games. What makes it more impressive is that he’s not sacrificing part of his game to be incredible offensively.
Some of the most offensively-gifted forwards in the league, like Patrick Kane and Kyle Connor, abandon their defensive duties. The same can’t be said for Kaprizov. He has only committed three penalties this season at 5-on-5 and has a 2.3 on-ice expected goals against per 60 rate, better than league average. The 24-year-old winger is a complete, responsible player and that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
With the All-Star weekend a little over a month away, is there any other Wild player who could join Kaprizov on the 11-man roster? The All-Star roster features six forwards, three defensemen, and two goaltenders.
Zuccarello, the Wild’s sneaky-good playmaker, is off to a strong start this season and thriving on a line with Kaprizov and Hartman. The 34-year-old produces a point-per-game, scoring exactly 24 points in 24 games. With eight goals on 53 shots (15.1 SH%), Zuccarello needs to shoot the puck more. Despite having a pass-first mentality, he has been an excellent finisher in Minnesota.
Hartman, who has emerged as a legitimate scoring threat in the top-six, has been sensational this season. Not only has he lessened the Wild’s need for a center, at least temporarily, since making the adjustment to center on the top line. But he is a vital part of the Minnesota’s early success. The 27-year-old forward has a team-leading 14 goals this season, and there’s no doubt the Wild would be in a different place without his production, especially considering Kevin Fiala‘s early slump.
Just like Hartman’s breakout with the Wild, other teams have had players step up in significant ways. Nazem Kadri has been outstanding with the Colorado Avalanche, further adding to their offensive firepower. Matt Duchene has emerged as the player the Nashville Predators thought they were getting when they acquired him in free agency. Vladimir Tarasenko is finally playing like himself again, and the St. Louis Blues’ offensive additions in Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich have been excellent. Both are on pace to flirt with 30 goals. Pierre-Luc Dubois has been lights out with the Winnipeg Jets, too.
The reality is that both are deserving candidates in terms of their play this season, but neither will make the cut due to the volume of talent in the Central. When there are only six forward spots open and a rule that requires each team to have at least one representative, there is bound to be some snubs.
Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have had excellent starts, but have dealt with injuries that derailed their chances. Spurgeon is certainly deserving but is probably disqualified due to the time out from his injury and the lack of point production as a result. He’s sporting a 54 percent expected goals rate to date this season, which is near the top 30 among all defensemen league-wide.
The other potential candidate is Cam Talbot in net. After early-season struggles, Talbot has rebounded with fantastic numbers over the month of December. Talbot’s third in the league with 15 wins and has a .914 save percentage in 23 games to go with it. Furthermore, he saved 7.36 goals above expected during a three-week span from Nov. 18 to Dec. 9.
Talbot is third in line, though. Connor Hellebuyck and Juuse Saros are the two goaltenders who deserve it most. But if a forward on the Predators like Matt Duchene gets the bid over Saros, Talbot should be next in line to take the second goaltending spot.
The Wild are unlikely to have a second player go to the All-Star Game with Kaprizov, but there are certainly several deserving candidates that should be recognized for their strong starts amid one of the best starts in franchise history.