As February began, the Minnesota Wild faced some uncertainty to start the month. After a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 2, the Wild had to deal with games being postponed due to COVID-19. In total, five games were postponed, and the team didn’t play a game for exactly two weeks. When they returned, it looked like they needed more time to get their feet back under them after a disappointing 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. However, that wasn’t the case, as the Wild immediately caught fire, winning six games in a row to end the month.
With a 6-2-0 record in February where they outscored opponents 28-16, the Wild currently sit second in the West Division, one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights. A big part of Minnesota’s hot streak has been the line of Kirill Kaprizov, Victor Rask, and Mats Zuccarello. In February, this line combined for nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points and has looked like one of the top trios in the NHL this season. With that said, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that line’s presence is prevalent in the Wild’s Three Stars for the month of February.
Third Star: Kaapo Kahkonen
In a February where the offense received a lot of attention in Minnesota, it’s important to note that Kaapo Kahkonen had quite the month for himself inside of the crease. After splitting starts with Cam Talbot in January, it’s looking like the starting role may belong to Kahkonen for the foreseeable future. Yes, Talbot did miss several games due to COVID-19, but his rookie counterpart hasn’t looked out of place in the starting role as of late. In six starts across the month, Kahkonen had a 5-1-0 record, along with a 1.99 goals against average and a 0.927 save percentage.
During the Wild’s current six-game win streak, opponents have only scored more than two goals once against Kahkonen, and that was in a 4-3 overtime win against the Kings. His February performances have him sitting second in wins for rookie goaltenders with eight, only trailing Washington Capitals G Vitek Vanecek, who has nine. Should he continue to play like he has over the last two weeks and garner more starting opportunities, Kahkonen may enter the Calder Memorial Trophy conversations going forward.
Second Star: Kirill Kaprizov
While Wild fans were always excited for Kaprizov’s eventual arrival to the NHL, others may not have had the same excitement since Minnesota isn’t one of the big market teams like Toronto or Pittsburgh. However, Kaprizov has looked dynamic playing with Zuccarello and Rask. Now, he’s finally getting attention from the whole league. Kaprizov put up four goals and nine points in eight games across February. As of Feb. 28, he’s leading all NHL rookies in points (17) and assists (11) while tied for the most goals (six). Out of all of his talents, his skating and playmaking looked phenomenal over the last month. One of his several highlight-reel plays in February came against the Avalanche on the 24th, where he set up Ryan Hartman with a no-look spin pass from the boards to the slot.
As mentioned before, a big part of Kaprizov and the Wild’s February success is due to the instant chemistry he had with Rask and Zuccarello. Nobody knew that this line would be as dominant as it’s when it was thrown together, but it’s been a welcome surprise. After some initial adjustments to the NHL, Kaprizov is looking like he’s already been here for years. Assuming there aren’t any more COVID-19 postponements coming up, it’ll be interesting to monitor his progression into whatever his next level might be as the season goes on. In the meantime, Kaprizov has been worth the wait.
First Star: Mats Zuccarello
When Zuccarello signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Wild back in 2019, it was expected that he’d be a significant contributor going forward. However, 37 points in 65 games in the 2019-20 NHL Season was a disappointing way to start Zuccarello’s time in Minnesota. He went on to have arm surgery in the offseason, which prompted a late start to his 2020-21 campaign. Fortunately, the delayed start paid off, as Zuccarello amassed 11 points in seven games in February. He’s also currently on a six-game point streak, which includes a four-point night against the San Jose Sharks in a 6-2 win on Feb. 22.
While fans have enjoyed watching the Kaprizov-Rask-Zuccarello line, the 33-year-old is also grateful to be playing with them while trying to get back to his old self. “Playing with good players, that helps, and like today, [Victor Rask] and Kirill [Kaprizov] are holding onto the puck, that makes it easier,” Zuccarello said in an interview on NBC Sports. “Obviously, I worked out a really long time, and I feel like I’m in really good shape.”
There are always questions and concerns when players get to Zuccarello’s age. Some begin to slow down, while others continue to defy Father Time. For the time being, it looks like Zuccarello falls into the latter category as long as he continues to play with Kaprizov and Rask.
Fortunately for the Wild, this line should continue to produce together for the foreseeable future. Zuccarello is only in Year 2 of his five-year contract, Rask has another year left on his contract, and Kaprizov will be a restricted free agent this summer, so they’ll be able to control his destiny for the time being. Depending on what the Wild do in March, the hockey world could have a better idea as to what this team is truly capable of.