Some rookie stars arrive in the NHL with their own gravitational pull, knocking a franchise out of its orbit.
Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason saw it happen firsthand while with the Washington Capitals when Alex Ovechkin arrived. He was a player whose pulsating life force, on and off the ice, infused every aspect of the team.
“When he first came in … my gosh, he was so much fun to be around. His excitement level on the ice had him jumping into the glass and being as excited for his teammates as he was for himself. But off the ice was the same thing: In the weight room and the dressing room, he was just a fun guy to be around,” Evason recalled.
Nearly 16 years later, Evason is seeing the same kind of impact from 23-year-old winger Kirill Kaprizov. Like Ovechkin, his boundless enthusiasm is infectious. Like Ovechkin, his production is prodigious: Kaprizov leads all rookies with 24 points in 26 games after finally coming over to North America from the KHL, six years after the Wild drafted him in the fifth round.
Like Ovechkin, his energy on and off the ice is transforming an NHL franchise. The Wild have gone from a punch-less offense to a potent one. They’ve gone from a team searching for a dynamic, signature superstar to the team of Kirill Kaprizov.
Or as he’s sometimes known, “Kirill the Thrill.” When he’s not being called “Dollar Dollar Bill Kirill,” that is.
‘Kirill the Thrill’
Not all rookies get christened with multiple nicknames the moment they arrive. Ovechkin was immediately “Ovi” and “The Great Eight.” Kaprizov has been given “Kirill the Thrill” and, quite hilariously, “Dollar Dollar Bill Kirill.”
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba helped given him the latter name for being so “money” while handling the puck. His teammates surprised Kaprizov by having shirts created with the nickname and a sketch drawing of the rookie’s face wearing sunglasses with dollar signs on them.
“It was very cool, but it was unexpected. I heard some of the guys talk about making shirts. I walked into the locker room and everyone is wearing them. It was very cool. But it made me a little shy, even,” said Kaprizov, through an interpreter.