Being the No. 1 pick in the KHL Draft may not be as big as having your name called out by Gary Bettman, but Kirill Kaprizov is proving he is worth the hype.
The Ivan Hlinka Memorial is undoubtedly one of the most important events on the calendar of any elite U18 hockey player in the world, but it’s also widely known that some teams tend to be more successful at it than others.
Russia, a perennial powerhouse at the adult and U20 levels, is not exactly dominating the Memorial lately, treating it more as a first step in the preparation process for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in the spring.
Still, there is such a thing as lowered expectation and such a thing as an 11-2 scoreline, one which Russia, no matter when and no matter where, should never, ever find itself on the wrong side of. That just may get the locals a bit... restless, shall we say?
But, amid the usual cries of despair and calls to disband the team and urgently birth a new batch of 17-year-olds, which are only to be expected from the internet, one player whom Russia hasn’t ripped into has been a forward from Novokuznetsk by the name of Kirill Kaprizov. And this isn’t just because No. 1 draft picks tend to be given a bit more respect. Kaprizov, though far from perfect, has been the closest to what Russia may call “a bright spot” at the Hlinka Memorial, with three goals and one assist in the team’s three group stage losses. For what it’s worth, he was called Russia’s best player in that catastrophe of a game against the Czechs.
“Of course, we feel the disappointment in Russia,” said Kaprizov the day after the loss. “All I have to do is turn on social media and that’s all I see there. Even if I don’t want to read it, the eyes are drawn to it. There is something we are lacking in this tournament, but it’s not the end of the world. We just have to make the right conclusions from this instead of just throwing it out of our minds.”
As for the terrible score, Kaprizov thinks that, as is often the case at this level, it was mostly due to the team’s falling apart mentally once the game got out of hand.
“It just started happening so fast,” he says. “One goal, two goals, three, then there come the penalties... It was hard to understand what was happening... As for my own performance, I was very unhappy with the first game. I could get nothing right in that one. But against the Americans, things started to get much better and I scored twice. Even against the Czechs, I had some good moments. But overall, I could’ve played much better here.”
Kaprizov took up hockey at the age of four in his native Siberian town after being brought to the rink along with a brother by his dad, who played the game recreationally in his youth. Only one of the younger Kaprizovs liked the sport, but he turned out to be quite a talent. As far back as he can remember, Kirill was always the best player in his age group, the trend which hasn’t stopped yet.
Scouts may already be busy comparing him to other hockey stars, but Kaprizov, a typical Russian goal-scoring forward, insists he had no single role model as a kid. Not that he isn’t a kid still, and as such, it’s always easy to find out whom he likes the most by asking him which team he prefers when playing video games. For Kirill, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Yes, I like Patrick Kane,” he admits. “But among fellow Russians, Alexander Radulov is probably my favourite. He is always determined to get to the net, always emotionally charged for every game, always fighting and always trying to lead the team. That’s the kind of player I want to be as well.”
Of course, the meaning of the KHL’s No. 1 draft pick isn’t quite the same. Kaprizov’s honour has a lot to do with the fact that Metallurg Novokuznetsk was picking first and, as most teams would do, moved in to protect its own best prospect. Unlike, let’s say, his NHL counterpart Aaron Ekblad, Kaprizov isn’t even guaranteed a spot in the Metallurg lineup this year.
“I won’t be a better player just because of (being picked first),” says the engaging and down-to-earth Kaprizov. “Everything will depend on how well I perform in practice. Our training camp just ended and it looks like I did well. The coach, from what I got, was happy with me.”
While well known among the Novokuznetsk hardcore hockey fans, who hound him at the arena and in social media, he hasn’t quite become a household name yet, which is probably appropriate for someone born in 1997. As for the NHL Entry Draft, for which he will be eligible next summer, Kaprizov is trying hard not to think about it too much.
“It will all depend on how I will play this season, so I must concentrate on that,” he says. “As long as I get picked, I will be happy, no matter which round. In any case, I would want to spend the next few years in Novokuznetsk and focus on making the team here.”
Group A in Breclav (CZE): Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, USA
Group B in Piestany (SVK): Slovakia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland
Schedule & Scores:
Monday, 11 August 2014
In Piestany (14:00): Switzerland vs. Canada 1-5
In Breclav (15:30): Finland vs. Russia 5-2
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Sweden 1-6
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. USA 4-2
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
In Piestany (14:00): Canada vs. Sweden 5-1
In Breclav (15:30): Russia vs. USA 4-7
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Switzerland 1-3
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Finland 4-3
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
In Piestany (14:00): Sweden vs. Switzerland 7-2
In Breclav (15:30): USA vs. Finland 9-4
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Canada 1-5
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Russia 11-2
Friday, 15 August 2014
7th-place game in Piestany (14:00): Slovakia vs. Russia
5th-place game in Breclav (15:30): Finland vs. Switzerland
Semi-final in Piestany (17:30): Canada vs. USA
Semi-final in Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Sweden
Saturday, 16 August 2014
Bronze medal game
Gold medal game