Wild fans have heard of Mikko Koivu. They’ve read the “Hockey’s Future” reports that rank him as the most promising Wild prospect. They’ve heard Minnesota Wild personnel like President and General Manager Doug Risebrough and Assistant General Manager Tom Thompson rave about his hockey sense and talent. They’ve heard that he’s the brother of Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu.
They’ve heard everything there is to hear about the guy. They just haven’t seen Koivu. After four long years since he’s been drafted out of the Finnish Elite League, Koivu’s time to play for the Wild is here. He will get his chance tonight when he centers a line with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kirby Law in the Wild’s first exhibition game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Glendale Arena.
Koivu is as relieved as any fan that he’ll finally be putting on a Wild uniform.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said after another strong showing in Thursdays’ scrimmage. “It’s a big one and I’m excited to play with these guys in this locker room and for this club. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.”
Koivu became the Wild’s second-ever first round pick, drafted sixth overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. At the time, he was a skinny 18-year-old playing in the Finnish Elite League. That’s where he stayed for three more years as he fulfilled Finnish National military requirements and skated for TPS Turku. His potential was noticeable judging by his stats, but he also dealt with nagging injuries for much of his Finnish playing career.
Last year was Koivu’s introduction to North American hockey. Because of the NHL work stoppage, his destination was pre-determined. He would join fellow Wild prospects Brent Burns, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Rickard Wallin, Kyle Wanvig and Stephane Veilleux in Houston.
“I think a season in Houston helped me, not just to get used to the hockey, but to get used to life away from the rink,” he explained. “If you compare the style of the AHL to back home, it is much different. The lifestyle is also very different. But I got to know some of the guys down there, so it was good year for me.”
It was a good year for him statistically as well. He appeared in 67 games for the Aeros and recorded 48 points on 20 goals and 28 assists. All totals were higher than any he reached while in Finland and they were good enough to rank him third in scoring on the Houston scoring charts.
Now 22, and after his one year initiation to the North American game, he’s almost a sure bet to move up a level to the big show. The time has finally arrived for him to join his brother in the ranks of the NHL and prove to Wild fans what they got in the first round four years ago.
“It’s way different than last year in Houston, which was amazing. Now it’s one level higher again so I’m very excited about that. I feel pretty good so far about how it’s been at training camp. The first couple days, you have to get to know the guys and get ready for the first game. But I felt good and it’s been a good camp so far.”
Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire agreed, saying he’s been very impressed with how Koivu has fit in seamlessly on the same rink as long-time NHL veterans.
“I need to take it day by day,” said Koivu. “I’m just trying to enjoy this from the organization, to the trainers to the arena. You can feel that professional attitude here and it’s something that I really enjoy.”
He should be enjoying it for many years to come.