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NHL Under the Radar: Kirill Kaprizov's production trending in troubling direction

One of the NHL's most dangerous offensive threats has become extremely power-play reliant.

It hasn't been particularly fun to be a Minnesota Wild fan in recent seasons, as the team has consistently been good only to bow out in the first round of the playoffs on an annual basis.

For quite some time that narrative was so connected to the Toronto Maple Leafs that the Wild often flew under the radar, but Minnesota has had it hard lately.

What the Wild faithful have learned in the first few weeks of the season is that competence without greatness is better than being flat-out awful — a descriptor that fits a reeling Minnesota squad off to a 5-10-4 start.

This week's Under the Radar column begins by putting the spotlight on the disappointing squad's biggest star.

Kirill Kaprizov hasn't been a superstar at 5-on-5

Kirill Kaprizov isn't off to an impressive start to the season. (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Kirill Kaprizov isn't off to an impressive start to the season. (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kaprizov's unimpressive production is far from the only thing wrong with the Wild, but it's clear he hasn't been himself.

He entered 2023-24 ranking eighth in goals (87) and 13th in points (183) over the previous two seasons, and he's been nowhere near the top of the offensive leaderboards yet.

Kirill Kaprizov headshot
Kirill Kaprizov
LW - MIN - #97
2023 - 2024 season
75
GP
46
G
50
A
11
+/-
277
S

Although his 18 points in 19 games looks respectable on the surface, it's undermined by the fact he's been almost invisible at even strength. Kaprizov has gotten four of his six goals and seven of his 12 assists on the power play.

It's the continuation of a worrying reliance on the man advantage to produce.

Via NHL.com
Via NHL.com

The winger's even-strength production should improve to some degree considering his shooting percentage at 5-on-5 this season sits at 4.76%, but his on-ice save percentage at even strength is a healthy 10.24% and he still has just five assists.

Since the beginning of the 2022-23 season, his 50 even-strength points rank 94th in the NHL. That has to be a concern for a Wild team that needs offensive consistency to help balance out its defensive and goaltending issues.

The Flyers' strong start to 2023-24 is about strong starts to games

The Flyers have been tough to beat when they score first. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Flyers have been tough to beat when they score first. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Scoring first has always been a good recipe for winning in the NHL, but the Flyers have taken that notion to the extreme in 2023-24.

Philadelphia has been absolutely outstanding when it beats its opponent out of the gate, posting an 11-1-0 record. When the Flyers get behind they've been in trouble, though, going 0-8-1.

Those numbers are the result of small-sample-size weirdness to some extent, but they also reinforce our understanding of the kind of team Philadelphia is. The Flyers are one of the best early-season stories in the NHL, competing well in a tough Metropolitan Division despite a roster expected to land them near the bottom of the standings.

Coach John Tortorella deserves an immense amount of credit for getting the most out of the talent available to him. Not only have the Flyers posted a strong record, their success isn't the product of hot goaltending or shooting luck. Philadelphia currently ranks seventh in the NHL in expected goal rate at 5-on-5 (53.60%).

That said, the offensive firepower on this team is middling at best. Getting Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson back has helped bolster the Flyers' top-six, but the former is more of a two-way difference-maker and the latter hasn't posted elite scoring numbers since he turned 30 back in 2019.

Philadelphia's splits when scoring first are likely to change, but this team's organized and determined brand of hockey works well when protecting a lead and its lack of raw offensive skill is exposed when chasing the game.

John Carlson has the world on his shoulders

John Carlson is doing his part to fuel the Washington Capitals' surprisingly strong start. (Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Considering Carlson is 33 years old and coming off a season where he missed 42 games thanks to a serious head injury, there would've been a case for easing his workload in 2023-24.

The Washington Capitals have not gone in that direction.

Carlson is currently the NHL ice-time leader on a per-game basis (26:12). He is present on Washington's top power-play and penalty-killing units while logging an average of 19:11 per night at even strength.

This usage wouldn't be particularly surprising if Carlson had a history of massive workloads like Brent Burns or Drew Doughty, but the 34-year-old has never averaged more than 25:04 in a season, and that was back in 2018-19. He is skating nearly three minutes per night more than he did last year.

Carlson's ice-time surge isn't the result of an incredible quality of play either. His offensive numbers don't jump off the page...

John Carlson headshot
John Carlson
D - WSH - #74
2023 - 2024 season
82
GP
10
G
42
A
-7
+/-
176
S

...and his on-ice expected goal rate (46.40%) closely mirrors Washington's team average (46.90%).

Carlson's massive workload is reflective of the Capitals' sense of urgency in the midst of a surprisingly strong 10-5-2 start — and the inability of the team's other defensemen to earn new coach Spencer Carbery's trust.

Mathew Barzal is the physical embodiment of on-ice chaos

Mathew Barzal is the master of changing possession, for better or for worse. (Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Mathew Barzal is the master of changing possession, for better or for worse. (Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In a number of sports ranging from hockey to basketball to football, coaches tend to put a massive premium on controlling the puck/ball/weird oblong object that probably shouldn't be called a ball.

Players that give away possessions are often called out and those that steal them are heroes.

It's tougher to know what to do with players that giveth and taketh away. In basketball you occasionally see players fitting that description — Trae Young currently ranks in the top 10 league-wide in both turnovers and steals per game, for instance. There's no equivalent in football, as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen isn't going to throw a bad interception then go out and get a strip sack on defense.

So far in 2023-24, Barzal has been the ultimate possession trader.

Mathew Barzal headshot
Mathew Barzal
C - NYI - #13
2023 - 2024 season
80
GP
23
G
57
A
-4
+/-
240
S

Barzal has 30 giveaways and 30 takeaways this season, leading the NHL in both categories overall — and on a per-minute basis. The New York Islanders moved Barzal to the wing this year, which has clearly made him more disruptive to some degree, as he only topped one takeaway per game once in his seven seasons prior to 2023-24 and averaged 0.76 overall.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, he's also been careless enough with the puck to negate the possession advantage he could be creating.

Jack Hughes has been the ultimate PP setup man

Jack Hughes is the engine behind the New Jersey Devils' incredible power play. (Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Hughes has been one of the NHL's best players in almost every way imaginable this season, but there's one area where he's been standing head and shoulders above the rest.

The 22-year-old has been the most menacing power-play threat in the NHL so far, helping drive the Devils to a league-best 37.5% success rate. Hughes can claim credit for much of the unit's effectiveness considering it's scored on 40% of attempts in games he's played and managed 26.3% when he's been out of the lineup. He also leads the NHL in power-play points per 60 minutes (15.92).

Hughes has an all-around skill set capable of testing opposing penalty kills in a number of ways, but he's been special as a setup artist. Despite missing five games, the star center is tied for the league lead in primary assists on the power play.

On a per-minute basis, his ability to set up teammates leaps off the page. Among players with at least 30 minutes of power-play ice time, only five have managed five or more primary assists per 60. The highest outside of Hughes is Nikita Kucherov at 6.17. The Devils star sits at 10.62.

That will cool off to some degree as Hughes probably won't have an on-ice shooting percentage of 30.5% on the power play all season, but it's clear the center is gifted at teeing up New Jersey's PP1 unit. That can mean cross-ice passes, feeding guys from behind the net, or shot passes like this one to Timo Meier:

When Hughes has the puck on the power play, goals follow — even if they don't come off his stick.