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Wild braces for life without its captain

Committee approach needed to fill all of Koivu's roles

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Looking at the back of his hockey card has never been an accurate way of deciphering just how much value Mikko Koivu has to the Minnesota Wild.

The team's captain -- its first full-time leader in club history -- is arguably the best player in franchise history. His offensive numbers are at or near the top in every category.

Because he's never been a 30-goal scorer in the League -- or even a 25-goal scorer for that matter -- many have not grasped just how vital Koivu has been for the past decade. 

Any big faceoff? It was likely Koivu tasked with taking it.

Going up against a superstar player or a great line? It was Koivu defending it.

Needing a big penalty kill? It was Koivu often leading it. 

So while the goal and assist numbers have never jumped off the page, it's everything else Koivu does that makes him nearly impossible to replace.

Video: Reaction on injury to Mikko Koivu

"We know what he brings. We practice with him. We're on the same team. I think it's the outside eye that you don't really know what you're missing until you're watching and he's not there and you're like, 'Whoa,' and then you realize. And that's what Mikko does," said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. "He does stuff that you see, and he does stuff that you don't see or you don't realize until it's gone, and that's why he's so valuable to our team, so yeah it's going to take a lot to try to fill that role I guess."

The Wild will get an immediate test tonight when Connor McDavid comes to town. McDavid is one of those players for years that Koivu has been tasked with slowing. 

The last time Minnesota played the Oilers back in December, the Wild was without Koivu, who had sustained a left knee injury the night before in Calgary.

McDavid had four points in the game and Edmonton scored seven goals in a 7-2 loss. 

That's not to say the same thing will happen tonight.

The Wild is on home ice, meaning it will have last change. It's not playing the second of back-to-back games, so fatigue shouldn't be an issue.

But what was once an easy decision for Wild coach Bruce Boudreau -- see 97 hop over the boards and counter with 9 -- will now become a little more challenging.

Despite that, Boudreau said he believes in the group in his dressing room and the guys that will be tasked with helping to fill the gap.

"I look at every team in the league, and they're all missing players. Arizona's missing nine regulars right now, and they still compete every night. So, yeah, we're really going to miss Mikko because he's one of the best players -- he might be the best player this franchise has ever seen," Boudreau said. "But if you sit and pout and go woe is me, you're going to be all done. It's a great opportunity for other people to step up and do things he was doing, and take a lot of pride in that."

One of those that will be counted on to step up will be Joel Eriksson Ek. The 22-year-old centerman has played in 36 games this season but has never been given consistent top-9 minutes in his young NHL career.

With Koivu out, that could now happen.

Eriksson Ek has a similar skill set to Koivu and has had a reputation as a strong two-way player as he's aged. 

While a number of different players will have to step up to fill all of the roles Koivu typically fills, if Eriksson Ek can help with a bulk of the defensive duties, that would be a huge boost.

"If you've watched him as long as I have, his defining role is that he plays so hard from the red line back," said Wild General Manager Paul Fenton. "I'd like him to score some more. That would be great. If he can pick up the extra minutes here, I think we're OK.

"Eriksson Ek is a guy we know is going to be a big part of our future. Now, it gives him an opportunity for him to step up. Him in particular because you look at replacements, he's always been a part of this. I just wanted him to play some more minutes so that when he did get an opportunity like this he would be ready."

The Wild will also count on newcomer Victor Rask, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes three weeks ago. At the time of the deal, Fenton said a team can never have too much center depth. 

"We have another center to utilize and now we're going to go forward and try to make this work," Fenton said. "I'm anxious to see how we play tonight. We've added some pieces, we've made some changes to our team. Let's see how we play for the next little bit."


Related:

Koivu out for season with knee injury

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