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Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov puts tense summer behind him

The budding Minnesota Wild superstar did not answer questions Thursday about his offseason in his native Russia, at war with Ukraine after invading its neighbor in February, or whether he had difficulty getting back to the United States.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov skates after the puck Wednesday, May 4, 2022, against the St. Louis Blues in the second period in Game 2 of their first-round series of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. Kaprizov had a hat trick in the Wild's 6-2 win to even the series at a game apiece.
Brad Rempel / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL -- Kirill Kaprizov’s English has improved substantially over the summer, to the point that the Russian winger was able to answer reporters’ questions on Thursday without the aid of his interpreter.

The budding Minnesota Wild superstar did not, however, want to use his new communication skills to answer questions about his offseason in his native Russia, at war with Ukraine after invading its neighbor in February, or whether he had difficulty getting back to the United States.

On the first day of training camp Thursday at TRIA Rink, with teammate Mats Zuccarello running interference, Kaprizov declined to talk about anything but hockey in his first meeting with reporters since the Wild lost a first-round playoff series to St. Louis in May.

kappracticewebonly922.jpg
From left, Mats Zuccarello, Kirill Kaprizov and Jared Spurgeon listen to coach Dean Evason during the first of three team workouts as the Minnesota Wild start training camp Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 at TRIA rink in downtown St. Paul.
John Shipley / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Zuccarello, Kaprizov’s veteran linemate, joined Kaprizov at the podium Thursday and set the tone after the first question regarding a reportedly difficult journey back from his native Russia to the U.S.

“We’re not going to talk about that,” Zuccarello said. “We’d only like hockey questions, right?”

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Kaprizov, 25, nodded. Asked if he was ever worried he wouldn’t get back for his third NHL season and whether it was difficult to get here, he said in English, “No, not at all.”

Kaprizov had a franchise-record 47 goals and 100 points last season, his second after being selected in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. Guerin said helping him return to Minnesota was more difficult than the Wild expected, adding, “I’m sure it wasn’t a great part of his life.”

Goaltender Ivan Fedotov, 22, a seventh-round draft pick signed to an entry-level contract by the Philadelphia Flyers, remains in Russia after being arrested for trying to avoid military service. Since 2021, all Russian males between the ages of 18 and 27 have been required to serve at least one year of military service.

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On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial military mobilization to call up as many as 300,000 reservists.

“I know Kirill doesn’t want to talk about it but, you know, we just had some issues getting him back in the U.S.,” Guerin said. “We did get help from some friends in Washington, D.C., and we’re extremely grateful for that. And, you know, Kirill was really patient, did exactly what he had to do.

“It was just a really tough time for him. We’re just glad that he’s here. We’re glad that he’s safe and healthy and ready to go, and he’s excited. That’s behind us.”

Kaprizov said Thursday he has bought a house in the Twin Cities and was thrilled to be back on the ice. Asked how he worked this summer to improve on the best offensive season in team history, the left winger said, “I don’t know. I do what I do every summer. I don’t think about 100 points, I just practice.”

Guerin, who signed Kaprizov to a five-year, $45 million contract just before the left wing was expected to report to training last fall, has high expectations. Kaprizov added eight goals and nine points in the Wild’s six playoff games last spring.

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“I think he’s got more,” Guerin said. “I really do. I don’t think we’ve seen the most from Kirill. He’s a special player.”

Kaprizov showed his rare skill from the get-go on Thursday, wrapping the puck around young defenseman Turner Ottenbreit and sending a shot at goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during a three-on-two drill in the team’s first practice session.

“It was a phenomenal first day,” Kaprizov said. “It was good to see all the guys. Everyone’s happy to be back and to see each other. It was just an overall really good first day.”

Guerin struggled to convey the exact situation Kaprizov was in. He reportedly was denied entrance to the U.S. twice because of a work visa issue before it was resolved. Asked if Kaprizov’s safety was ever in question, the GM said, “We didn’t know at first.”

“That’s tough to explain,” he added. “I don’t think it was ever life-threatening or anything like that, just a matter of him being OK and being relatively safe and being able to get back over here. … As long as he’s here, he’s fine and things are good. Just let him focus on hockey.”

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