Should Mikko Koivu still be a top-six forward for Minnesota Wild?

ST. PAUL, MN - FEBRUARY 10: Mikko Koivu #9 of the Minnesota Wild awaits a face-off against the Chicago Blackhawks during the game at the Xcel Energy Center on February 10, 2018 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - FEBRUARY 10: Mikko Koivu #9 of the Minnesota Wild awaits a face-off against the Chicago Blackhawks during the game at the Xcel Energy Center on February 10, 2018 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Mikko Koivu is the longest tenured Minnesota Wild player, and has held one of the top 2 center positions for the majority of his NHL career. Is it time for him to take a step back as he slows down through his 30’s?

The Minnesota Wild have relied on their captain to carry them through the good times and the bad for the better part of 13 years now. Mikko Koivu has been a 40 point player for the entirety of his career, only failing to reach the mark in his rookie season and in the lockout shortened 2012-13 year.

One year removed from back-to-back 50+ point seasons, Koivu has provided 4 points through 5 games this year and has been one of the most consistent players on the ice so far. Is it too soon to start suggesting he be removed from his Top 2 center role?

At this point, I think we need to evaluate the entire picture. On paper, 4 points in 5 games looks like Top 6 production, and his consistently top tier 2-way reliability in the center of the ice is unmatched by any other player on the Minnesota Wild.

The biggest concern for Mikko Koivu at this point, is his age and his declining speed getting up and down the ice. He clearly has the skill, the vision, the positioning, and the hockey sense to know when and where he needs to be on the ice; but, too often the plays are developing too quickly for his aging body to keep up with.

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As groundbreaking as Bruce Boudreau‘s skating test is, and as beneficial as it may be for younger players, I feel like it may be having an adverse effect on older players like Koivu. For an aging veteran entering Boudreau’s system, it almost appears as though Koivu has sacrificed some of his speed in favor of increased endurance to be able to complete the skating tests.

This is purely opinion, based on no documented fact or statement from any player or coaches. Simply put, Mikko Koivu’s stats decreased drastically between Boudreau’s first 2 years, and he now looks slower than ever on the ice this year.

He can still thread a needle to get a pass through a mass of sticks to Zach Parise for a beauty tip, he can still win faceoffs at a pace the team desperately needs, but he can provide that same skill set from the 3rd line while imparting his veteran wisdom on younger players for the future of the team.

Guys like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Luke Kunin all have experience at center, but none of them play with the same faceoff ability or 2-way ability of Koivu. He should be using these last years as Captain to work from the bottom and groom his successor.

Every one of those above players has spent time on the Minnesota Wild’s top line, other than Kunin, and each has had differing levels of success when promoted up the lineup.

Granlund appears better set at wing, and has had more success when centered by players who allow him to use his speed and skill to create opportunities on the side boards. Coyle is approaching 30 and may be better suited at this point to stay on the wing as well.

Eriksson Ek appears to have the best chance to emulate Koivu’s skillset, but as of yet has struggled to be a consistent point player in the NHL. He should be Mikko Koivu’s protege, but instead he has found himself trying to climb out of Koivu’s shadow.

After playing on the top line with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker this month, an extended stint centering the second line with Parise and Granlund in Koivu’s usual role seems like a good fit. Allow Koivu the chance to mentor Eriksson Ek, and his value to the team increases drasticaly.

Greenway is a much different player than Koivu, and seems to play a game much more similar to Staal or Eric Fehr. Allow those veterans to mentor the larger Greenway, and Koivu can focus on the players who fit his mold better.

The best fit for Koivu at this point, may be that of a mentor to the extremely talented Kunin. Kunin needs to make sure his knee is recovered from surgery, but should Boudreau decide Eriksson Ek is not qualified for Koivu’s role on the second line, then Kunin should be the guy.

At 20 years old with 19 NHL games under his belt, Luke Kunin should be a star on the rise. His stint in the AHL this year should be short lived. A call-up to the NHL would allow him to spend a ton of time learning from one of the league’s best centers.

With additional ageing veterans Staal, Fehr, and Matt Hendricks filling out the Minnesota Wild depth chart the team needs to start looking to the future. You can’t rely on a depth chart of 4 centers all over 30 to carry you deep in the season. Youth and speed dominate this league, and a player like Koivu needs to accept that he cannot keep up with his younger counterparts.

I have been a Koivu fan for a long time, and by no means do I think he should ever leave the Minnesota Wild, but I feel like he needs to find his role in the future of this team. As the captain, it should be on his shoulders to prepare the next generation to take the reins of the team. In order to do that, he can’t keep holding onto top offensive spots in favor of younger offensive weapons.

Fans have started questioning Mikko Koivu’s qualifications as captain, and his place on the team. I think he still belongs on the team, and he clearly has the respect of his teammates as the captain, but he also needs to know when it’s time to take on a different role. This is that time.

A third line role would allow Boudreau to still roll Koivu’s line out for defensive matchups, as he would still be flanked by wingers capable of defensive checking line roles, he would still be on the bench to take the all important faceoffs late in the game, and would prove his worth as a captain by being a veteran mentor and leader.

Next. Koivu Deserves Some Time Off. dark

This would also (hopefully) allow Boudreau to get exposure to his younger players and develop the kind of trust in Greenway or Kunin that he currently has in Koivu, Fehr, and Hendricks. It may take a lost season for all this to happen, as I don’t know if Bruce can change his ways as long as the team continues winning, but let’s hope that he has the foresight to know his 30-year-old centers won’t be around forever.