Prior to the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the prognosticators and mock drafts had one name next to the Minnesota Wild more than any other - Goaltender Dan Blackburn. Then General Manager Doug Risebrough and his staff did nothing to dispel these rumors. Often, teams want others to think they're going one way so they can go another.
With the sixth overall pick, the Wild brass passed on the goaltending position and got the player they secretly coveted all along - Finnish center Mikko Koivu
At the time, fans were familiar with another Koivu - Saku, who was a star with the Montreal Canadiens already. As for Mikko, the scouting report said he was a playmaker, a two-way center and a leader. Just over 10 years later, he can now be tabbed an NHL All-Star.
"Of course it's an honor," said Koivu following Thursday's morning skate. "You look at the players who are in there, obviously, and get to pick from this team. It's a big honor. That's my word to describe it. It's a big honor to represent the Minnesota Wild."
Koivu was named to the pool of All-Star players that will appear at All-Star Weekend in Ottawa January 28-29. He'll be among 36 All Stars that will be drafted by yet-to-be determined team captains.
"He's deserving," said Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher. "He's our star player. You hope this type of recognition on a national level will increase the league-wide awareness of how good he is. I know our fans know how good he is."
Koivu learned of his selection today as the Wild prepares to take on the Chicago Blackhawks. The news comes on the same day that he was been nominated as the Conscript Athlete of the Finnish Defense Forces 2011. The nomination follows his leading Finland to the 2011 World Championship gold medal, while also completing his Finnish military service in an "excellent and responsible manner." He was promoted to corporal after his service.
Koivu was very nearly added to last year's All-Star Game roster when several players pulled out with injuries, but the honor went to Martin Havlat, who joined Brent Burns, who had been named earlier.
This year, there was little doubt who would represent the Wild. Koivu tops the team scoring chart with 33 points (9-24=33) in 39 games. He leads the Wild with a +9 rating, and is the go-to forward used in every situation - power play, penalty kill, key faceoffs. In addition to his offensive output, Koivu has established himself as one of the top defensive forwards in the game. His Head Coach Mike Yeo has said more than once that Koivu should be a Selke trophy candidate.
"You're happy about it, and things like that," said Koivu. "But at the same time you want to focus on the game and the road trip here."
Koivu had plans to get together during the All-Star break with his older brother, Saku. He'll have to put those on hold now.
"This is fine," he said, laughing. "I'm sure he understands."
Koivu becomes the eighth Wild player to be selected to the All-Star Game, joining Marian Gaborik (2003 and 2008), Filip Kuba (2004), Dwayne Roloson (2004), Brian Rolston (2007), Niklas Backstrom
(2009), Burns and Havlat (2011). Koivu is the first Wild center to be chosen.
Koivu won't know who is All-Star teammates are until he is drafted along with all of the other selections in a televised Fantasy Draft on January 27.