“God bless Koivu.” It was a throwaway line in an article in the Athletic written by Dom Luszczyszyn previewing the Minnesota Wild’s 2018-19 season, but it stuck with me. Mikko Koivu came into the Wild organization when he was drafted 6th overall in the 2001 entry draft. That is 17 years ago. Koivu has been with this team through thick and thin. He has been such a fixture of this team that it is easy to take him for granted. His highest goal total was only 22 in 2009-10, he is no Connor McDavid or Evgeni Malkin. Regardless, Mikko Koivu has been the heart and soul of this franchise since before iPhones were a thing and he has managed to contribute on both ends of the ice and is still and elite hockey player.
Koivu is an Elite Player
Mikko Koivu should have won a Selke trophy. He probably should have won several. He should have won one as recently as last year. He has an ability to shutdown shot attempts and high danger chances at a truly elite level. While it is hard to isolate a player’s defensive contributions in such a fluid team sport such as hockey (especially with the numbers publicly available). However, fortunately others have done the heavy lifting for me. Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire broke down Mikko Koivu’s stats this March while the annual debate of who is actually a good defensive forward was raging. I encourage you to read the whole article, but here’s a quick summary: in the 2017-18 season, Mikko Koivu was more effective than Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Aleksander Barkov, and Sean Courturier in limiting the following:
- High danger scoring chances;
- Scoring chances; and
- Shot attempts.
He was also better than those same players at:
- Loose puck recoveries in the defensive zone;
- Loose puck recoveries in the neutral zone; and
- Successful defensive plays in the defensive zone.
If you haven’t been paying attention to hockey, those are the Selke Trophy winners since 2013-14 (Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar) and the great defensive centers of the future (Sean Courturier and Aleksander Barkov). Koivu is not only in good company, he is making that good company look bad. Perhaps nothing better illustrates Mikko Koivu’s overwhelming impact on the ice than this shot chart courtesy of Ian Tulloch’s twitter (@regressian):
In addition to his solid defensive player, Mikko Koivu is the type of player that makes other players better. It is no coincidence that Zach Parise found his scoring groove last season when he was placed on Koivu’s wing. Additionally, two seasons ago, the Zucker - Koivu - Granlund line was one of the best in hockey. Koivu’s ability to shut down the opposition allows his linemates to flourish offensively as they know that Koivu is there to support them.
The CapFinn has Welcomed Diverse Players and Leaders
Mikko Koivu is the only permanent captain the Wild has ever known. That does not mean that he is the only captain that has been on the Wild’s roster. Zach Parise, Jason Pomminville, Eric Staal, and Ryan Suter have all worn letters on their chest while with their previous teams (Cs for the first three and an A for Suter). Koivu has been able to integrate these players and make them feel welcome and included on the team. While the inner workings of the Wild’s locker room are known only to the players and Michael Russo, it is telling that Staal, Parise, and Suter all signed here when they had other options and Pomminville signed an extension after being traded here. One has to assume that Koivu was an integral part in not only selling them on the team but also accommodating those personalities.
In addition to working with veterans, Koivu has been tasked with integrating a young core of players from both North America and Europe into the future of the team. From the outside, his efforts seem to have been successful. The Wild have largely avoided the contract drama surrounding other talented young players (see William Nylander, Jacob Trouba, etc.). In addition, while it is not solely due to the efforts of the CapFinn, I think it speaks well to the culture he has helped to cultivate that the young players have developed such obvious deep friendships such as Zucker/Coyle and Brodin/Dumba. Am I attributing too much to the Koivu’s influence? Probably, but when there is a lack of direct evidence, we have to lean on circumstantial evidence. Now, let’s get him to work on Kaprizov….
Koivu is the Minnesota Wild
This summer, I was looking to add another Wild jersey to my collection. My go-to for the past few years had been my road Erik Haula jersey, but I wanted to add one of the new home jerseys to my closet. When it came time to choose which player, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I chose Koivu as he represents the Wild and is their heart and soul. It has been a joy to watch Mikko Koivu take the ice and compete on a nightly basis and I am grateful he is still with the Wild as they begin to look to turn the page and enter a new chapter in their history. God bless Koivu. When he decides to leave the game behind, I can’t wait to see the Wild raise his jersey to the rafters where it belongs.