International Ice Hockey Federation

Kaprizov eyes World Juniors

Kaprizov eyes World Juniors

Meet Novokuznetsk’s latest prospect

Published 16.12.2015 12:29 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Kaprizov eyes World Juniors
Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov skates with the puck while being chased by Team USA’s Jack Roslovic at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Novokuznetsk, an industrial city of half a million in South Western Siberia, has a proud tradition of developing hockey talent.

Although Metallurg, the city’s team, rarely forces its way into play-off contention in the KHL, it’s no surprise to see youngsters from the organization called up for World Junior action.

This year is no exception, with promising forward Kirill Kaprizov following the likes of Sergei Bobrovski (bronze medal, 2008) and Dmitri Orlov (gold, 2011) into contention for the biggest junior hockey showcase in the world. Those two have since gone on to carve out NHL careers for themselves while in this season’s KHL, Novokuznetsk graduates are also catching the eye: Ilya Sorokin, a silver medallist in last season’s World Juniors, has been CSKA’s most active goalie, posting 96.1% in his 16 games for the Western Conference leader, while in the East Sibir Novosibirsk’s young forward Damir Zhafyarov (bronze, 2014) has helped his team to the summit.

So it’s not surprising that Kaprizov, 18, insists Novokuznetsk is a hockey city. “You can ask anyone in Novokuznetsk and they’ll say the same thing: ‘this is a hockey town’. People here really love the game.”

That love means a steady stream of dedicated young talent coming into the Metallurg school – Kaprizov himself grew up in a village an hour’s drive from the city and for years his parents would ferry him once or twice a day to get to and from practice. It also inspires the senior team to give youth its chance in the KHL: year after year Metallurg ices young players who gain vital experience of the adult game at a time when many of their peers are still in age group action.

“Metallurg has believed in me since I was a child and it all took off from there,” Kaprizov said. “I worked hard and the coaches started calling me up for training with Kuznetskie Medvedi in Russia’s junior league MHL. Then, after I started playing for Medvedi, I got the chance to link up with Metallurg. Everyone knows that in our city we’ve got a lot of young guys who deserve a chance to prove themselves, and it turned out that one of those chances came to me.”

This season saw Kaprizov take that chance: on a line with Maxim Kazakov and Ryan Stoa he has adapted fast to the challenges of the men’s game and, until Stoa’s transfer to Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, that trio was the most productive in the competition, even though Metallurg was at the foot of the table.

But Kaprizov himself, a Minnesota Wild draft pick back in the summer, is more eager to talk up the form of his fellow youngsters: the emergence of youthful talent is the traditional silver lining to the clouds around Metallurg’s league placings.

“Everyone knows we’ve got a lot of young guys at Metallurg and now we’re even playing a line of youngsters with Alexei Razumov, Andrei Karavayev and Stanislav Butuzov,” he said. “On our last run of road games they did really well, they got points in almost every game.

“Our coaches have complete trust in our young players and it’s clear that this confidence is transmitted to the players themselves – we try to express ourselves on the ice. That's why almost every year we see someone from Novokuznetsk emerging at the highest level.”

Kaprizov is part of the new generation of Russian players who had the opportunity to develop their skills in the MHL. That youth competition was set up by the KHL to rival the attractions of junior leagues across the Atlantic, supporting the development of new generations of Russian stars after the game was threatened with stagnation.

Since the league was founded ahead of the 2009/10 season it has had a positive impact on Russia’s results at the World Juniors. 2011 saw the country's first gold since 2003, with Orlov and another Metallurg graduate Maxim Kitsyn on the roster. That started an on-going run of five consecutive medals (one gold, two silver, two bronze). For Kaprizov, the MHL and its close ties with men’s hockey have made a big difference to youth development in Novokuznetsk.

That wasn’t just about stepping up from school hockey to the junior club game, it was also a chance to work with the senior team. “The MHL gives you a chance to show yourself, especially when you have MHL and KHL teams in the same city,” he said. “When that happens you often get coaches and managers from the senior team coming to the youth games to check on promising youngsters and maybe draft them into a higher level. In Novokuznetsk we knew that when Metallurg wasn’t out on the road, guys from the first team would be watching all the Medvedi games in the arena, seeing us play live. So we could each get the chance we were hoping for.”

The next chance that Kaprizov is hoping for is the opportunity to represent Russia in Helsinki at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. On Saturday he joined up with the pre-tournament camp at Novogorsk, looking to convince head coach Valeri Bragin to include him in the final party for Finland. It could be the first of two appearances in this competition, since he would still be eligible for next year.

“To start with I need to prove to the coaching staff that I’m worth a place on the team,” he said. “I’ve seen who else is on the long list and there are a lot of good players coming to the camp. Every one of them is worthy of the chance to represent Russia in the World Junior Championship.

“Any Russian national team always aims for the highest goals, and we always face opponents who are seriously motivated to beat us. In the last few years we’ve been among the top-three teams in the world, so this season’s team has even more responsibility. But at the same time it’s an even greater honour and excitement.”


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