Yes, Wild star winger Kirill Kaprizov is shooting more

On the Wild’s plane ride to Tampa, Fla., last Wednesday, coach John Hynes and his staff started their first real in-season meetings with players. The purpose, the head coach said, was to “give each guy some foundation keys of what we expect of them and what their identity is.”

Anyone who has watched the Wild over the past four seasons could at least have started the meeting with Kirill Kaprizov. The young winger is expected to score, something he has done consistently since he matriculated from the KHL in 2020-21.

Kaprizov isn’t a guy whose game ebbs and flows much. Whether he’s scoring or not, he’s skating and battling. But one of the things coaches talked to Kaprizov about last week was putting more pucks on net.

“That’s something that he recognized himself,” Hynes said.

After a morning skate at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday, Kaprizov acknowledged he has been focusing on shooting the puck since returning from an upper body injury suffered Dec. 30 in Winnipeg. In those five games, heading into Tuesday night’s game against Washington, he had five goals and eight points.

“(A) shot-first mentality combined with his ability to make plays was something that he had recognized, anyway, before he went into what his foundation would be,” Hynes said. “So, that was good to see he recognized them and he followed through with that on the trip and he got rewarded for it.”

In the 14 games before his injury — he was hurt by a pair of cross checks from Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon — Kaprizov was averaging 2.8 shots a game. Since returning, that’s up to 4.6 in five games.

“Oh, yeah?” Kaprizov said. “I didn’t know about this.”

Kaprizov was still scoring at a good clip — seven goals and 15 points in those 14 games — but Wild coaches aren’t the only ones telling him to shoot more.

“That’s what Zuccy always told me, too, ‘Try more shots,’ ” Kaprizov said of his mentor and linemate, veteran wing Mats Zuccarello. “If I’m open, he’ll give me a good pass, and I try to shoot it.”

Kaprizov registered his third career hat trick in Sunday’s 5-2 victory at Carolina. He scored on a deflected shot by Alex Goligoski, a turnaround wrist shot from the slot just after a Wild power play had expired, and a big empty-netter that rolled in and essentially sealed the victory.

“I was trying not to shoot too hard, maybe not get icing, because it happened quickly,” he said of the empty-netter that made it 4-2 with 2:01 remaining. “Fabes had a blocked shot, and I just tried to send it to the neutral zone — and maybe score.”

Kaprizov was second on the team with 18 goals before Tuesday’s game, one behind Joel Eriksson Ek. Those two also led the Wild in shots on goal, 177 for Eriksson Ek, 131 for overall points leader Kaprizov (18-24—42).


Injury report

Forward Freddy Gaudreau returned to the lineup after missing a pair of games with an upper body injury. Marc-Andre Fleury, who took himself out midway through a 6-4 victory at Florida, missed his second full game, but the Wild haven’t put him on the injured list.

“He’s still going through the process of evaluations, seeing how he feels, and things like that,” Hynes said.

Fleury was injured when he was hit by the Panthers’ William Lockwood while corralling a puck behind his net in the first period. He played 10 minutes into the second period before taking himself out when Florida replaced goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Lockwood was suspended three games by the NHL for the hit.

Hynes said there was still a chance Fleury plays in one of the Wild’s last two home games before the all-star break, Thursday against Nashville or Saturday against Anaheim.

“Sometimes guys can get hurt right away, and you know. Other times you want to make sure that you’re doing the right thing with the player and let some time elapse to make sure they are hurt or they just need a few extra days to get back up and running,” Hynes said.

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