It took a long time and Minnesota Wild fans waited years to see their hottest prospect in action. The hype and expectations were near impossible to live up to, but from his first shift in the NHL, Kirill Kaprizov managed to exceed them. Kaprizov has been exactly what the Wild needed for decades, bringing a flair, and scoring touch that the Wild have not had since Marian Gaborik. The 23-year-old is the face of the Minnesota Wild and Kaprizov is the only correct winner of the Calder Trophy this season.
Minnesota’s Connor McDavid
Before Kaprizov joined the Minnesota Wild, the aura and feeling surrounding the Wild were very negative. The team was defensively good, but about as exciting as watching paint dry. They were unable to score goals and were stuck in the hamster wheel of mediocrity. Good enough to make the playoffs, but not quite good enough to advance far. The NHL was filled with great teams, and awful teams and then there was the Minnesota Wild who was the most boring team in the league. It wasn’t without reason a lot of rival fans give them the nickname Minnesota Mild.
However, after just one game, Kaprizov had changed this with his overtime winner against the Los Angeles Kings. Suddenly, the Wild had an identity and a face of the franchise. Throughout the season Kaprizov has been Minnesota’s, main man. Driving the offense and attracting attention from the opponent and yet he has found a way to be a constant danger for the rest of the Western Division. His skating and ability to do make special plays from nearly anywhere on the ice has been nothing short of spectacular.
The way he completely changed the Wild in his first season in North America similarities to the way Connor McDavid changed the Edmonton Oilers when he arrived. He was a constant highlight reel and he made them must-watch TV. The same has been the case with Kaprizov, who has given Minnesota a lot of attention and positive league talk. The Minnesota Mild memes have been quiet since Kaprizov joined. Once again like the demise of the memes about the Oilers being a graveyard for talent when McDavid joined.
The last similarity between McDavid and Kaprizov is the attention on the ice they generate. Opponents know they can’t give them an inch of space, and if they get that it results in a high-end scoring chance. Therefore they focus so much on double or triple-teaming them, but that leaves space for Kaprizov and McDavid’s teammates and with both having an elite vision, it usually results in a spectacular pass to a wide-open man.
Age Does Not Matter
Normally when a rookie is leading in both goals and assist, there is little doubt they are going to become the Calder Trophy winner at the end of the season. Kaprizov is leading in both having scored 10 goals and 15 assists in his first 29 games in the NHL. This scoring pace would give him 70 points in a normal 82 season. That would be the fifth-highest in the history of the Minnesota Wild. Those numbers are spectacular and should easily win him the Calder Trophy.
It’s beyond hard to find a way to discredit Kaprizov’s status as the favorite for the Calder Trophy, and yet, people are trying. Especially his age is for a few people enough to making Kaprizov an illegitimate winner. Being 23 years old he is far from the average rookie and it certainly has given him an advantage. He has been playing in the KHL for six seasons against men and former NHLers. This fact makes him far from a rookie when it comes to playing against pros and for some an unfair advantage to the rest of the rookies.
This argument is easy to dismiss when you look at the past winners of the Calder Trophy. Multiple winners have either played against men in a professional league before they arrived in the NHL or have been older than Kaprizov. Most recently, Artemi Panarin had a very similar path to the NHL. He also went from the KHL to the NHL when he was 24 where he was a cornerstone for the Chicago Blackhawks. He deservingly so won the Calder Trophy after a season similar to Kaprizovs current season and since then the rules haven’t changed so that makes Kaprizov eligible to win it.
Other Contenders For the Calder Trophy?
The other part that diminishes the argument about Kaprizov’s experience in a professional league and his age is the other suiters to the Calder. When you look at the Calder race, Kaprizov is in the league but second to him on most people’s list is Tim Stützle. The Ottawa Senators rookie has been great and is only 19 years old. It’s a fine start. but what people forget is that this isn’t his first season in a pro hockey league. Last season he was playing in the DEL of Germany, a top league in Europe, and he even played in the Champions Hockey League. If Kaprizov’s KHL years discard him as a rookie, then so should it for Stützle.
Some have also mentioned that a few goalies could win the Calder trophy. Goalies like Vitek Vanecek, Kevin Lankinen and Kaapo Kahkonen. All are having amazing seasons, where they been a huge part of their team’s success. However, the impact from them is still far from the impact of Kaprizov. What’s even worse for their chance to win is that they show the weakness of the argument against Kaprizovs age. For instance, Vanecek is actually older than Kaprizov and has played in the AHL for multiple seasons. It’s the same with Kahkonen.
The rookies in the league have been great, but none has been close to Kaprizovs impact and play. The only way he won’t win the Calder Trophy is if he gets an injury. If he plays the full season, it would be criminal to give it to anyone else but the Russian superstar.