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A bittersweet accomplishment for Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov

Like the rest of the Wild, Kirill Kaprizov got off to a slow start this season, which sounds a little odd considering he had 18 points in the first 19 games. But he had only six goals and sometimes looked a little lost, finishing that stretch a minus-9.

Kaprizov was coming back from a serious hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of the last month of the 2022-23 regular season, and limited him to one point in a six-game, first-round playoff loss to St. Louis.

Whatever was bothering him, Kaprizov didn’t want to talk about it. Asked before a game Dec. 7 in Vancouver if he felt limited in any way, Kaprizov — with help from teammate Mats Zuccarello — mostly avoided the question before finally saying, “No, I’m OK.”

Whatever the reason, Kaprizov has found his game since. Heading into Tuesday night’s 8:30 p.m. puck drop at Colorado, he has 35 goals and 71 points — and is a plus-24 — in 51 games since John Hynes became coach on Nov. 28.

With two goals in the Wild’s 4-0 victory at Chicago on Sunday, Kaprizov became the first player in franchise history with three 40-goal seasons and now has 41 with five regular-season games remaining. With his team all but eliminated from playoff contention — a Wild loss or Vegas win would seal it — it’s a bittersweet accomplishment.

Kaprizov, 26, twice played in the championship for Russia’s elite Kontinental Hockey League and hasn’t missed the postseason since his first two seasons in the KHL with his hometown Metallurg Novokuznetsk in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

“It’s always tough. It’s not fun (to) just finish season early after regular season,” he said this week. “It’s where we are now. (We’ll) take some learnings and keep going next season, and this year we still have a couple games.”

Kaprizov takes a seven-game points streak into Denver (5-7–12) and leads the Wild with 41 goals and 89 points. He had two goals and an assist against the Blackhawks on Sunday, his 10th three-point game of the season. If that doesn’t tell you what he means to the Wild, look at the first two weeks of January.

While Kaprizov was sidelined by a rib injury suffered Dec. 30 in Winnipeg, the Wild were 1-6-0 and outscored 25-11. Before he was hurt, the Wild had won 7 of 8 games and pulled within three points of a playoff spot. Without him, they fell to 13th in the Western Conference and six points out.

The Wild found their bearings but never fully recovered.

Kaprizov’s injury wasn’t the only one to bedevil the Wild this season. Captain Jared Spurgeon played only 16 games before having season-ending surgery on his hip and back, and big guns such as Mats Zuccarello, Jonas Brodin, Marcus Foligno, Matt Boldy and Filip Gustavsson all missed significant time.

“It’s a tough season because it was a lot of injuries,” Kaprizov said. “I don’t play a couple, Zuccy don’t play, (Foligno) don’t play, Spurgey, Gus. You know, everyone just a little bit here, a little bit here. A couple guys were a little bit longer in injury. If I score goals, I try not to think about this. (I) just try to show my best every game, and that’s it.”

Since Hynes became coach on Nov. 28, the Wild are 32-20-6 — and 31-14-6 with Kaprizov in the lineup. After scoring four goals in his past two games, Kaprizov ranks fifth in NHL goals over the past three years dating to April 8, 2023.

Not bad for a fifth-round pick in the 2015 entry draft. The four players ahead of him — Toronto’s Auston Matthews (177), Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (156), Boston David Pastrnak (149) and the Oilers’ Connor McDavid (142) — were all first-round picks, and three of them were top-three picks.

“To be in that company, he’s obviously elite in the league,” Hynes told reporters after Sunday’s game. “I still look at Kirill (and) think the upside for him in the next couple years is going to be really impressive, just as he continues to mature, gain confidence.

“His ceiling is pretty high, and I think over the next couple years, we’re going to see that.”

Baaaaad Company

Kirill Kaprizov scored two goals Sunday and became the first Wild player to score 40 goals in three seasons . Since April 8, 2021, the Wild winger has been one of the NHL’s top five goal-scorers:

Player Team G GP Pts.
Auston Matthews Toronto 177 237 309
Leon Draisaitl Edmonton 156 252 363
David Pastrnak Boston 152 251 313
Connor McDavid Edmonton 149 252 443
Kirill Kaprizov Wild 139 235 289

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