Mikko Koivu’s 5v5 shooting percentage isn’t sustainable, but we need to cut him some slack on his underlying shot percentage metrics. Under Coach Double-B, he’s playing all of the tough minutes for the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild have played 39 games of an 82 game season, so we’re basically at the halfway point. Looking at the boxcar stats, Mikko Koivu has put up 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points, which places him third on the team in goals behind Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle with 13 apiece and fourth on the team in points. He leads all forwards in ice time. Mikko is off to a great start.
And, by looking at the boxcars, we might miss how different this season is from last season for Koivu. For example, since it’s basically the halfway point of the season, we could simply double Koivu’s numbers so far and see that his 56 points would be identical to his 2015-2016 season, when Koivu posted 17 goals and 39 assists for 56 points, which led last year’s team in points, playing all 82 games.
But Koivu’s numbers last season were inflated by his success on the power play. Mikko led the team last season in power play goals with 10. It was the only time in his career that he scored in double digits on the power play. Moreover, two of his goals were empty-netters and one was short-handed. That means that Mikko Koivu scored exactly four goals last season in 1161 minutes of 5v5 play. This year, of Koivu’s 12 goals, one was in overtime and two were empty-netters. That took me an hour to figure out because I could only find empty net goals on NHL.com and it looks like the NHL has Koivu’s goal against the Sabres on October 27, 2016 recorded as an even strength goal, rather than an empty-netter. Argh.
In any event, the point is last season Koivu scored four goals on 97 shots in 1161 minutes at 5v5, finishing the year with a personal shooting percentage of 4.12. This season he has scored nine goals on 44 shots in 552 minutes at 5v5 for a personal shooting percentage of 20.45! I have lots of kids at my house, so that is what we refer to as "Looney Tunes Banana Pants". Prior to last season, Mikko’s best shooting season was his rookie year at 9.57% and his worst was 2010-2011 at 4.69%.
Of the 377 forwards that have played at least 200 minutes at 5v5 this season, Koivu’s 20.45 shooting percentage ranks seventh in the league behind Paul Byron (!), Anisimov, Grabner, Oshie, Sissons, Chris Stewart (!) and just ahead of Sidney Crosby. The pucks are going in the net for Mikko in the first half of the season at 5v5. It’s not possible that Koivu has improved greatly as a shooter in his age 33 season, so we can expect Mikko’s 5v5 shooting percentage to drop over the second half of the season, but he’s already banked 12 goals and he won’t have to give those goals back. Plus, there isn’t any reason to expect that Koivu’s not going to score on the power play. Could Mikko top his career high of 22 when he was 26 years old? I think he might. That would be fun. Good for him.
Finally, although Koivu’s shot percentage has been mediocre, it looks better when adjusted for score and venue, since the Wild has been leading so much this season. And his underlying numbers have been trending up as he gets used to his new role starting in the defensive zone more often and gels with Granlund, all season, and Zucker, more recently, on the wing.
That brings me to my second point about Koivu this season, which I’ve touched on briefly in the recent past. Outside of Mikko’s crazy shooting percentage, the biggest change I’ve seen this season between Coach Double-B and Mike Yeo is Mikko’s deployment. Many of the writers and editors at Hockey Wilderness have argued that Koivu should take on more responsibility for defensive zone draws, since he’s such a hockey ninja who always tilts the ice in favor of the Wild. Yeo typically started Koivu in the offensive zone, while Boudreau has forced Koivu to take more faceoffs in the D-zone. Prior to this season, the percentage of D-zone draws Mikko has taken has been between around 23%-27%, while this season he’s at 44%. That’s a huge discrepancy.
Of the 377 forwards who have played at least 200 minutes at 5v5 this season, Koivu ranks 19th with a defensive zone faceoff percentage of 44%, behind a number of bottom-six grinders like Kruger, Fehr, good friends Matt Cullen and Torrey Mitchell, Letestu, Cizikas, Fiddler, Sissons, and Beagle, and just ahead of Ryan Kesler, the Ducks forward who we imagined Boudreau might use in a similar fashion to Koivu.
I started learning about fancy stats in hockey cutting my teeth on Rob Vollman’s player usage charts, but we’ve since learned that zone starts might not matter as much as those initial charts suggested. But zone starts do matter at the extremes, which is where Koivu is being deployed now. Add to that fact that Mikko’s middling possession stats are on the upswing and I think that the second-line center’s line could be on the surge, without the need to benefit from the on-ice shooting percentage.
Coach Double-B has tapped into something with Koivu’s line taking a lot of draws in the defensive zone and that line looks to be on the move. Why Boudreau doesn’t move Nino up to the Staal line to help Koivu take on the competition’s toughs with the top-six and bludgeon the opposition’s bottom six with some combination of Parise, Coyle and Pominville, I will never know. The fourth line is garbage, but Coach Double-B doesn’t use them other than safe minutes and little in the third period. With the crazy shooting percentage and the tough deployment, Koivu might be delivering one of his best seasons as support for the “top line.” Can we get some Selke love for the Finnish Ninja? This is the season to make that push.
Stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com, hockey-reference.com, corsica.hockey and nhl.com, boo.