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Russian rookie learns Wild's rules — including an odd one about Kaprizov

CHICAGO – In the month since he arrived from Russia, Marat Khusnutdinov has previewed the potential that made him an intriguing Wild prospect.

He hasn't scored his first NHL goal, but the center picked up his second assist Sunday in the 4-0 win at Chicago, but his confidence has been on the rise.

"It's a lot quicker of a game," said Khusnutdinov, who was in the KHL until signing with the Wild in February after the team drafted him in the second round in 2020. "Decisions are made quicker. Passes are made more accurate. It's just a cleaner game."

But becoming an NHLer is about more than settling in as a player.

Like at any new job, there's also an orientation for how to fit in beyond the work: Is there assigned parking? Where to eat? Are jeans acceptable attire?

The Wild are no different.

"Every single guy on the team is super helpful off the ice," Khusnutdinov said through an interpreter, "always [making] suggestions on where to go, what to do, how to do something."

Like clockwork

Players clock in long before the puck drops.

For games, they have to arrive two hours early and for morning skates, they show up to the arena around an hour to an hour-and-a-half before they hit the ice; practices are on a similar timeline.

This gives players the chance to go through their personal routine, get a workout in before practice and attend meetings, which is another reason not to be tardy.

The expectation is players are already sitting down waiting for a coach to kick off a meeting instead of walking in a minute early.

"Guys that cut it close, it's frowned upon," alternate captain Marcus Foligno said. "You don't see those guys anymore."

What's the consequence for being late for a meeting?

A player typically gets benched the next game; that happened to Boston's Jake DeBrusk earlier this season. His teammate, Derek Forbort, was also a healthy scratch in February for missing a Bruins meeting.

"Just trying not to be late, that was definitely the more stressful part of it when I first got here," rookie defenseman Brock Faber said.

Preparation mode

The Wild are on an especially regimented schedule before games.

There are three meetings, for the penalty kill, power play and the entire team. Players only attend the PK and PP sessions if they're on those units, which they know based on if their jersey number is on the whiteboard in the locker room.

This is also when players will tape their sticks or change their laces.

"You lose track of time a little bit if you get talking or having to do little stuff with your equipment," Foligno said. "You gotta be on your toes."

That's also good advice for the soccer showdown.

Also known as sewer ball or two-touch, players kick around a soccer ball and try to avoid being the last person to touch the ball before it hits the ground. Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello and Marcus Johansson are considered some of the best players on the Wild, and joining the game means learning the rivalries.

"There are some battles that go on that guys go at each other," Matt Boldy said. "Maybe you kick it a little harder, try to get someone out."

Once it's time to take to the ice, players file into a line that always begins with the starting goaltender and ends with the backup.

In between, the order can fluctuate based on injury and other absences, but there are some consistencies: Joel Eriksson Ek is second, and Kaprizov is always among the last to emerge. Khusnutdinov has slotted in about two-thirds through the line.

Even warmups follow the same script, with players skating and puck-handling around their half of the rink before three-line shooting, more shots from around the circles, line rushes, individual shots, the last puck drill and more skating. (This is different from what teams do in Europe.)

As for after games, players work out before leaving the arena.

They'll bike and lift weights; if they're playing a back-to-back, they'll do only a quick bike ride.

Dressing the part

Jerseys aren't the only uniform players have; a suit and tie are required to and from games.

When the Wild are at home, they can wear casual clothes to morning skates and practices. But when they're on the road, their wardrobe is more formal; a collared shirt and slacks or khakis (no jeans) are a must for morning skate, while practice is business casual.

That's also the protocol for the team plane.

"We got that changed," Foligno said, "because it used to be dress shirts with your suit."

On the road

As the fashion shows, life on the road has its own set of rules.

Curfew is 11 p.m., and some meals are at the hotel like breakfast and a pregame bite. Players are on their own for dinner on a day off or the night before a game.

Bus times are communicated via text message, and players will receive a reminder the night before.

On the plane, seats are assigned.

Khusnutdinov inherited Connor Dewar's former seat next to Boldy after Dewar was traded to Toronto last month.

Unwritten rules

Besides staying on top of where they need to be, when and what to wear, there's also an etiquette between the veterans and the rookies.

When players check into the hotel on the road, veterans are supposed to get on the elevator first.

They also serve themselves before the rookies at the pregame meal.

"It's a little nit-picky," Foligno said. "But you know what? I did it, so gotta keep the tradition going."

In the team group chat, the youngest players usually aren't the most talkative.

"You can get roasted pretty quick," Foligno said.

At Tria Rink in St. Paul where the Wild practice, veterans such as Foligno, Eriksson Ek, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and captain Jared Spurgeon park closer to the door, while their younger teammates have their vehicles in the middle or back of the lot.

As for when they ride the bus, veterans typically get the back and rookies are in front.

The exception? Kaprizov.

"Kirill's in the back from Day 1 because nobody could tell him no," Foligno said. "Kirill was all the way in the back, and he didn't play an NHL game yet. I'm like, 'What are you doing?' He didn't understand English, so he just laughed at me. I'm like, 'OK.'

"It's OK. We've moved on."

Kaprizov has helped his countryman Khusnutdinov adjust to the Wild, but Khusnutdinov has taken a different approach to the bus than Kaprizov.

"I'm rookie," Khusnutdinov said in English. "I'm sitting first."