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Koivu, Granlund Soaking Up Vegas Experience

Both Wild players are first-time finalists for NHL Awards

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

LAS VEGAS -- As a Vegas first-timer, Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu said he's been enjoying the best of what the City of Lights has to offer. 

In less than 24 hours, Koivu, along with countryman and Wild teammate Mikael Granlund and the entire NHL, will take center stage as the League celebrates the 2016-17 season by handing out its awards in conjunction with the Expansion Draft (7 p.m. CT, NBCSN).

Koivu, who is a finalist for the Selke Trophy, awarded annually to the best defensive forward, has long been one of the League's top two-way forwards. After being publicly (and vocally) endorsed by his coach, Bruce Boudreau, for most of the second half of the season, Koivu -- along with Anaheim's Ryan Kesler and Boston's Patrice Bergeron -- has an opportunity to be rewarded for it.

"It's a huge honor. I'm proud of that. But so much goes into that with the team's success," Koivu said. 

Despite having one of the best all-around seasons of his NHL career, Koivu was quick to point out the contributions of others, crediting his linemates, the Wild's goaltenders and even the system. 

"As a team, we play very well defensively and for sure that helped me," Koivu said. "I think for me, the bigger picture is when the team is winning, individually [things] step up as well. I think we showed that this year."

One of the most humble players in the Wild dressing room, Koivu has a dry sense of humor and is quietly quick with a one-liner. Not one to break into a smile, at least in the heat of the moment, the captain has been grinning for much of his time in Las Vegas.

"It's been fun. I think the way the NHL does everything, it's always first class," said Koivu, who has experienced the week's events so far with his wife, Helena, by his side. "We've really enjoyed the first couple of days here. It's been a fun experience, fun to see the other players as well. Can't wait for tomorrow. I'm sure that's going to be fun as well."

For Granlund, watching Koivu get this experience has been special. Two-way hockey is a staple of the Finnish game, so seeing one of Finland's most iconic players of this generation get the recognition he deserves has been gratifying.

"I feel really good about that," Granlund said. "He does so much good stuff on the ice. He's been with our team and the franchise for a long time, so I'm really proud for him to be up there. He really deserves that recognition."

An awards finalist himself for the first time, Granlund is coming off a breakout season in which he led the Wild with 69 points and established new career highs in practically every offensive category. 

In addition to his contributions in the scoring columns, Granlund was whistled for just six minor penalties in 81 games. For his efforts, Granlund is one of three players up for the Lady Byng Trophy, which is awarded to the Most Gentlemanly Player. 

"It's an honor to be here," Granlund said. "Not every player can get mentioned in the same group as [fellow Lady Byng finalists Johnny Gaudreau and Vladimir Tarasenko] or the other players who have won the Lady Byng before. It's a pretty impressive group of guys."

The NHL Awards is just the first stop in what could be a busy and exhilarating few weeks for Granlund, who is set to become a restricted free agent. It's possible that he and the Wild could come to terms on a lucrative contract in the coming weeks, a prospect that could provide him with life-changing security.

Bringing some hardware back to Finland would be a nice cherry on top of what, at least individually, was quite a season for the 25-year-old winger.

"Individually, and as a team, we did a lot of good things last year," Granlund said. "I think we played, especially during the regular season, we played good hockey. Now, with the contract, hopefully we can get something done at some point and get ready for next season. I'm excited about that."

Granlund, who is akin to a rockstar back in his native Finland, has grown quite used to attention. If and when he gets a new contract, Koivu said his 2016-17 season could very well be a springboard for bigger and better things to come.

"He's been just terrific," Koivu said. "You can see his confidence level got even higher. But you can't look too far ahead of yourself. I think he has a good head on his shoulders, so I'm not worried about it.

"He's going to have even more recognition from the other teams, so that's going to be another challenge for him. But I know he's excited about that and I'm sure he'll be ready for that. I think he can definitely go even higher and to another level again. That will help the team win even more than he did last year. He's still young, so young. He's got a lot of years ahead of him."

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