ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) – The Minnesota Wild can once again play a full schedule, in front of a full house.
The crowds returning after the pandemic-altered Empty Arena Season will have one main attraction this time around: Kirill Kaprizov.
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“He kind of has that ‘it’ factor, and it’s not something you can just teach or learn,” said Wild general manager Bill Guerin, who completed a $ 45 million contract on five years last week for the Russian left wing. “Great personality. Always smiling. Always work hard. He got some guys together and then he goes out on the ice and he performs at such a high level. It is leadership.
Kaprizov had 27 goals and 24 assists in 55 games as a rookie last season to win the Calder Memorial Trophy in a landslide. Now he will be even more scarred by his opponents, invited to carry the goal load with major contributions from Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala.
“I can’t wait to have fans in the building and the excitement they bring,” Kaprizov said through his translator. “Last year with the half-season it just wasn’t the same.”
After losing in the first round of the playoffs to Vegas, an intense clash that went the distance but still remained a sixth straight year for Minnesota without winning a playoff, the Wild came back largely to the same. training. Frederick Gaudreau is the only new forward, with only a few spots available for competition at training camp.
There has been a big change in mood, however, following the buyouts of left winger Zach Parise and defender Ryan Suter.
“I think we’re in a very good position right now. We have a lot of new faces. The players want to be here, ”Guerin said. “They love to play here. It’s a big market.
The Wild also locked Eriksson Ek long-term, with an eight-year, $ 42 million contract. The 2015 first-round pick kicked off the preseason by centering the first line with Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. Already a defending ace, Eriksson Ek has taken a giant leap forward in attack in 2021 and aims to replace some of the rocky goals that Parise has frequently produced.
“I’m just trying to bring a little of that to my game, and just to be around the net and get those rebounds,” said Eriksson Ek. “I hope to be able to access these areas this year as well.”
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The departure of Parise and Suter necessitated the appointment of two new alternate captains. Defender Matt Dumba and right winger Marcus Foligno were honored by captain and defender Jared Spurgeon in a brief ceremony in the dressing room after practice on Saturday.
“We want everyone to have a voice. This is how we want culture to be in this room, from now on, ”Foligno told the team.
Dumba entered his ninth NHL season, having been drafted seventh overall by the Wild in 2012. He won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2020, awarded annually to a league player who best exemplifies his leadership on and off the ice. Foligno is in his 11th NHL season, his fifth with Minnesota after joining a trade with Buffalo.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had such a tight-knit team,” Dumba said. “I think it’s just very exciting to see what we can do this year.”
Ian Cole and Carson Soucy also left the blue line, leaving Jonas Brodin and Dumba as the only pair intact from last season. Alex Goligoski joined Spurgeon in a top duo with 25 years of combined league experience. The additions of free agents Jordie Benn, Dimitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill will vie for a spot in the third pair, with prospect Calen Addison also under consideration.
The Wild are back in the Central Division after the NHL’s temporary realignment to ease COVID-19 complications, putting Chicago, Dallas Nashville and Winnipeg back into a major rotation after failing to face them â € “ or any team outside of their eight-team squad – at all last season. Arizona are now a permanent opponent in the division, having been replaced by the Seattle expansion team in the Pacific Division.
The Wild are playing nine of their first 14 road games, including two visits to face the Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena. The home highlight is the Winter Classic against St. Louis at Target Field on January 1, the first time the league’s annual outdoor showcase will be played at night. The Wild also play five of their last six games for Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center.
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