Neal: Look for a sophomore surge from Wild's Kaprizov

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The talented Russian forward still faces a learning curve but seems well-suited to handle it, and the results show.
La Velle E. Neal III's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.

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Kirill Kaprizov is beginning his second season with the Wild, but already he looks like the best player the club has ever drafted.

He's yet to score during the young season but has five assists and appears ready to build on his rookie output of 27 goals and 24 assists in 55 games. That's a 40-goal pace over an 82-game season — which would have been the second most ever by a Wild player. Marian Gaborik — the Wild's best pick before Kaprizov — shares the single season record of 42 goals with Eric Staal.

With a year of experience, Kaprizov better understands what playing in the NHL is like. He's already showing opponents he's not going to be pushed around. But it's his offensive ceiling that should have fans on the edge of their seats this season. The Wild could have its first 50-goal scorer in franchise history. Or maybe its first player with 50 assists since Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Kaprizov has the hands to score and create, making such numbers seem attainable.

Just how good can Kaprizov be? He made his NHL debut at age 23. Other young stars like Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were in the league in their late teens and blossomed in their early 20s as they gained experience.Gaborik was 18 when he broke in with the Wild, scoring 18 goals and 36 points overall. The next season he had his first of seven 30-goal seasons.

Kaprizov entered the NHL a little older, after playing professionally in Russia. How much upside does he still have? What if there is a lot of upside left?

"Whether it's going to squirts to…
La Velle E. Neal III
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