Even if you’re a hockey fan, it always takes a second to remember that the Minnesota Wild exist and what their jerseys look like. In all of the four major sports, the Wild are the most guy-in-the-work-kitchen that no one really knows. You see him there, he might nod to someone once a month, and then he goes back to an office or floor no one else can find. No one ever sees him leave or arrive, and when your friend claims he ran into him on the street on the weekend you never believe them.
That’s the Wild. They’re just there. One conference final appearance in their history, which is now 20 years long. Bet you didn’t remember they’ve been around 20 years, either. Their best ever player is probably Mikko Koivu, which is a lot like saying your favorite color is oatmeal. Their leading goal-scorer is still Marian Gaborik, who hasn’t played there in 10 years. The first half of the Wild’s existence was as enjoyable as awaiting the results of a biopsy under coach Jacques Lemaire’s trap. Since then, there was the brief interlude with Bruce Boudreau, who had been a fun coach before the Wild, but we can’t locate any records or highlights of the Wild under him to say if the Wild were as well. They say it happened, but apparently it didn’t matter.
The Wild have been filled with players seemingly en route to somewhere else or having their careers dead-end without their knowledge or consent in St. Paul. One runs into the other without being able to distinguish them from each other. They tried to make the headlines back in 2012 by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on the same day. And then Parise started moving like a Nintendo villain and Suter’s game has always been about efficiency rather than flash. They were absorbed by the blob that is the Wild rather than the other way around. It’s a faceless mass.
Kirill Kaprizov has landed on the scene, as much of a “scene” as St. Paul can be, and suddenly there’s life. There’s vibrance. There’s spikes in the EKG. Kirill The Thrill notched another point last night against the Yotes in a 3-0 win, giving him 25 points in 27 games and still leaving them right on Vegas’s shoulder atop the West division. They’re on a five-game win streak, including two wins over Vegas and a three-game sweep of Arizona where the Wild outscored them 11-1. Kaprizov had a hat trick in the first of those three wins.
But more than the points, every night Kaprizov promises that something might happen that will cause you to sit up straight on your couch. He can conjure, which has everyone in Minnesota fanning themselves to stave off the vapors. Look at this guy:
Or here he is skating around the Coyotes like the two-dimensional scenery that they’ve always been, showing them what they’ve never had and never will:
As they once said about Clint Dempsey, Kaprizov “tries shit.” He’s not afraid to try and go through two or three guys to create space and chances, and he can actually do it. Which is such a departure from what the Wild have been, and what their fans are used to seeing thanks to two decades of functionality that a well executed cross-corner dump-in was the height of inspiration. Anything could happen when Kaprizov is on the ice. There’s possibility, for a team that always specialized in nothing happening.
The Wild have had prospects before that were going to change the entire place. Mikael Granlund was one. He’s in Nashville now. Pierre-Marc Bouchard teased it, but injuries curtailed that. Brent Burns was once here, though the Wild played him at forward and he didn’t become what he is (whatever that might be, which is probably severely overrated) until going to San Jose.
But Kaprizov looks to be the answer for the question Wild fans had become too numb to ask. They could hand Kaprizov the Calder Trophy for Rookie Of The Year now and no one would object. He’s only 23, and while there’s still a long-term contract to be figured out, for perhaps the first time Wild fans can bank on a true building block for the next few years.
If that can happen in Minnesota, then truly anything is possible and hope is a good thing.