Being a veteran team, the 2016-17 Minnesota Wild will have at least one important advantage over most of their younger competition: an abundance of leadership.
Several players on the current Wild roster have a history of leading teams and are hopeful that they will be able to mesh well together in an effort to avoid what seems like an annual mid-season slump. We take a closer look at the players who highlight Minnesota’s leadership group as they gear up for an important season ahead.
Mikko Koivu has long been viewed as a mature and savvy leader and has captained the Wild since the 2009-10 season when he was given the honour at the age of 26. The native of Turku, Finland has led Minnesota to the playoffs in each of the past four seasons and aims to have that streak continue in 2016-17. The 6’2″-centre is the first real captain in Wild history as, prior to his anointment, the captaincy was rotated among teammates since Minnesota’s inaugural season in 2000-01.
Aside from captaining the Wild, Koivu also found himself in the familiar role with Team Finland at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Koivu acted as team captain of Finland’s entry in the revamped Olympic-style tournament, and it marked the sixth occasion that he’s sported the ‘C’ on his jersey in an international event.
Koivu previously donned the letter in the under-18’s, World Juniors, and World Championships. The 11-year NHL veteran missed the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi due to injury but would have no doubt been counted on to captain that squad as well if his health had permitted him to do so.
Koivu mostly leads by example and plays a responsible two-way game that coaches can only hope his teammates are able to emulate. The veteran forward won’t always lead the way offensively but is definitely no slouch when it comes to scoring either. The centre is often tasked with shutting down the opposition’s biggest threats and it’s a wonder that he’s never been nominated for the Selke award. Maybe it’s a lack of exposure or just plain ignorance, but one thing is painfully clear, Koivu rarely receives the recognition he deserves and somehow remains underrated throughout the rest of the league.
The Supporting Cast
Koivu will have plenty of help from a strong supporting cast this season. Wearing the assistant captain’s ‘A’ on their jerseys will once again be Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, and Jason Pominville. All three of these players have significant experience in leadership roles. Their ability to lead should be second-nature at this point in their careers.
Suter has donned an ‘A’ on his jersey ever since he signed with Minnesota as a free agent in the summer of 2012. The American defender also previously sported the letter for three seasons with the Nashville Predators. Internationally, Suter was an assistant captain for Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games as well as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Not always an assistant captain either, Suter has worn the ‘C’ while playing in the World Under-18’s and the World Junior Championships.
Parise is another player who has extensive experience as a leader. The former New Jersey Devils captain has worn an ‘A’ since his arrival in the North Star State. In what would have to be considered a career highlight, the veteran winger had the privilege of being the appointed leader of Team USA at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
For his part, Pominville captained the Buffalo Sabres for three seasons before he was traded to the Wild prior to the 2013 trade deadline. The winger, who will turn 34 in November, will be the oldest player on the Wild’s 2016-17 opening night roster. Pominville may see fewer minutes on the ice but he will be looked upon more than ever to provide insight and advice to his younger peers.
The New Guy
Another candidate to wear a letter in Minnesota this season is newcomer Eric Staal. The long-time Carolina Hurricanes captain is no stranger to being front and center when it comes to guiding his team. Staal captained the Hurricanes for seven seasons and also brings invaluable experience as a former Stanley Cup Champion.
The 31-year-old is coming to a new team but shouldn’t have any trouble fitting in and taking on a leadership role. The Thunder Bay, Ontario-native formerly captained Team Canada at the 2013 World Championships and, no longer considered the face of a franchise, he should have an easy time adjusting to life as a member of the Wild.
Regardless of what letter is on the front of their jerseys, these players take pride in their ability to lead. Whether its carrying extra weight on their shoulders, leaving it all out on the ice, or playing a big role in rallying their troops in the locker room, each of these individuals represents the Wild and ultimately do everything they can to help guide their team in the proper direction.
Mark Bowie covers the Edmonton Oilers and the QMJHL for THW.