Wild star Kirill Kaprizov relishes physical play: ‘It just wakes him up’
He’s a lot like Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin in the way he responds to physical play.
Even before Kirill Kaprizov hilariously imitated Alex Ovechkin at NHL All-Star Weekend, he’s long been compared to the dynamic superstar. Both are from Russia. Both possess lethal shots. And they both elevate their respective teams to the next level.
That said, Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason has picked up on another similarity that might go unnoticed to the untrained eye. He was an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals early in Ovechkin’s career and always found himself impressed with how the Russian superstar dealt with physical play from opposing teams.
“We had (Donald Brashear) on our team,” Evason said referring to the longtime enforcer. “When guys would start taking runs at Alex, he would actually say to Brash, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.’ ”
While there were definitely times when Brashear would step in, Ovechkin didn’t need someone fighting his battles. He was more than capable of defending himself.
The same goes for Kaprizov nowadays.
“We aren’t afraid to see people try to challenge him physically,” Evason said. “It just wakes him up even more.”
Like it did in Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. As much as the Hurricanes tried to get under Kaprizov’s skin, even going as far as punching him in the face, he never backed down from the challenge.
“I feel like it fires him up even more when he starts playing physical or when other teams start playing physical against him,” defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said. “He enjoys it. He kind of feeds off of it and feeds off of the competitiveness against other top players.”
Not surprisingly, Kaprizov scored a goal in that game to help the Wild earn a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes.
“He knows he needs to produce every game, and he accepts that challenge,” Kulikov said. “I think the more we ask of him, the more he’s trying to produce.”
After missing a couple of games with an upper-body injury earlier this month, defenseman Matt Dumba will miss Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings with a lower-body injury.
“We are evaluating as we go here,” Evason said. “It’s a funny situation. He played the entire game (on Saturday). He doesn’t actually know when he did it. We’ve tried to find when he did it. The bottom line is he’s out in tonight’s hockey game, and we’ll evaluate going forward.”
In his absence, fellow defenseman Jordie Benn will hop back into the lineup, showcasing the amount of depth the Wild have on the blue line.
“We have the utmost trust in everybody back there,” defenseman Jon Merrill said. “That just goes to show how we think about each other as a team and how close we are. That next-man-up mentality. Whoever is called upon to do their job, we trust that they’re going to do it.”
Though he claims it’s not a conscious effort by the coaching staff, Evason continued his rotation between the pipes in Monday’s game, opting to start goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen. This comes after fellow goaltender Cam Talbot earned a victory over the Hurricanes over the weekend.
“We had a good debate yesterday about it,” Evason said. “We could have went either way.”
The last time the Wild have started the same goaltender in back-to-back games came last month when Talbot played Jan. 24 against the Montreal Canadiens, then again Jan. 28 against the New York Rangers.