MONTREAL — The Minnesota Wild and the NHL were trying to get a handle on a developing situation Wednesday after multiple media reports surfaced out of Russia that Wild star Kirill Kaprizov is wanted in his native country for allegedly buying a falsified military ID card in 2017, when he was playing for Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Wild general manager Bill Guerin told The Athletic that Kaprizov is still in Russia, contrary to reports that he had fled for the United States.
“We’re trying to find out as much as we can, but we’re not worried too much about it,” Guerin said. “I’ve talked to (Kaprizov’s agent) Paul (Theofanous). We’re not going to push the panic button or anything like that. We’re just trying to gather information right now and find out if this is even credible.”
This situation comes days after Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov was arrested and taken to a military naval camp for allegedly evading mandatory military service. Fedotov has been accused of purchasing a fake military ID from a high-ranking military officer, who allegedly helped other Ufa athletes obtain the military cards as well.
Kaprizov was on that team with Fedotov. The SHOT Telegram reported that Kaprizov and Pavel Karnaukhov are suspected of buying military IDs in 2017.
Kaprizov’s father, Oleg, denied that his last bought a military ID to Sport-Express and said Kaprizov is a student of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). It is common for Russian professional athletes to study from afar as a means of delaying their military obligations.
However, Kaprizov’s exemption expired June 30, according to one source familiar with the situation. If that’s true, regardless of the accusation that he bought a military ID five years ago, Kaprizov could be required to fulfill his military obligations. In Russia, men must serve in the military for one year between the ages of 18 and 27.
Theofanous did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Kaprizov, 25, played the past two seasons with the Wild. He won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 2020-21 and last season set a franchise record with 47 goals and 108 points. Before that, he represented CSKA Moscow — still considered the Red Army team — for three years. Typically, CSKA Moscow players have been exempt from military service in the past. That might be an informal rule, though.
“You’re in the Army, but your job is to play hockey,” one Russian source said. “Somebody’s job is to drive a tank and your job is to hold a stick.”
Kaprizov is a decorated Russian player who twice led the KHL in goal scoring, won a league championship, captained their 2017 World Junior Championship team and scored the golden goal in the 2018 Winter Olympics. When he was pressured to re-sign with CSKA Moscow and not sign with the Wild four years ago, he did just that. He’s been photographed many times shaking the hand of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He did everything they asked,” said a source close with many Russian players. “That’s why he stayed so long without coming to the States, because they asked him to do it — official people asked him to do it.”
Asked how concerned he is that Kaprizov could be forced to remain in Russia, a source knowledgeable of the goings-on in Russia said he’s not — “unless it’s coming straight from the top, and you know who I mean.”
“If it’s coming from the person (Putin), and he says Kirill’s not going anywhere, then he’s not going anywhere,” the source said. “Unless it’s coming from that one person, everybody else is going to be OK. Only one person can make him stay, not nobody else.
“But is it possible? Like a small percentage, of course, because he’s one of the biggest names to make an example. What are you going to make an example of: Fedotov, who is going to be in the AHL, or a star in the league? If you want to make the news, you grab the best one you can. I think he’s in a good standing with extremely high-up people, but if push comes to shove and they want to make an example of him, they will obviously. They’ll forget about everything else — all the good things he’s done for the country.”
It’s an alarming thought that was reflected in a story published by The Athletic last week, in which a number of NHL executives voiced their concern that Russian players could have trouble returning to North America in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and escalated global tension.
Russian NHL stars traveled home. Will they all be back?
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) July 1, 2022
In that story, an agent said he warned all his clients not to return home this offseason, and Guerin said that he pleaded with Kaprizov six weeks ago not to return to Russia this offseason.
One Russian person who works closely with players throughout the NHL echoed that sentiment Wednesday to The Athletic. He said he warned everybody he has ties with not to return to Russia this offseason.
“I strongly recommended nobody go back, and just about nobody listened,” the source said. “They were all laughing because until something will happen, people take it lightly. Now, something has happened and people are no longer taking it lightly. I’m sure these guys are no longer laughing.”
The NHL held its annual GMs meeting Wednesday, and managers said the topic of Russia possibly preventing players from returning didn’t come up.
“There’s no guidance,” said Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher. “Teams are free to make their own decisions.
“It’s a very sensitive situation and we’re doing our best to stay abreast of any developments. In view of the current situation (with Fedotov), I’ll probably limit my public comments.”
Brian MacLellan, the Washington Capitals GM, said he’s spoken with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov.
“Every time I talk to them, they’re comfortable and confident they can get back,” MacLellan said. “Obviously there’s uncertainty there, but they’re comfortable.”
As for Kaprizov, multiple sources said Wednesday that if he does return to the US, he should not go back until after his playing days. But that could put his parents and brother, who live in Russia, at risk, as well.
“It’s clear Russia is trying to pressure NHL players right now not to leave Russia,” a league source said. “This is not going to be exclusive to Kirill Kaprizov. I don’t know how any Russian players can feel confident returning to Russia every offseason now. Or, the NHL draft is coming (Thursday and Friday). How do you draft a Russian player now? I don’t know. It’s very complicated.”
(Photo of Kirill Kaprizov: Bailey Hillesheim / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)