The Minnesota Wild department at The Hockey Writers wrote up a series that looked into the franchise’s top 10 players all-time in honor of their 20th anniversary last season. THW’s Wild team consisting of myself, Aaron Heckmann, Devon Platana, and Justin Walters voted on this list, and it began with the 10th spot as we worked our way down to this article which is the best player in franchise history.
The number one player in Wild history is none other than their very first permanent captain, Mikko Koivu. He’s the best player to ever wear a Wild jersey, and he’s more than deserving of this top spot.
Born in Turku, Finland, he didn’t have to look far to have hockey influences in his life. His dad was a coach for the Finnish Elite League, and his older brother, Saku, was an NHLer himself. Koivu didn’t join the NHL until sometime after his brother but he didn’t spend long living in his shadow.
Big Brother Saku
Saku Koivu was very well known during his time in the NHL, as he spent the majority of it with, at the time, the beloved Montréal Canadiens. Not only did he play with one of the most famous teams in the NHL, but he was also their captain for nine of the 13 seasons he played with them. He also faced and defeated non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma during his career, which caused him to miss nearly an entire season, but his return to the NHL scene was one that wasn’t forgotten.
He eventually moved on from the Canadiens, and went all the way to the west coast to the Anaheim Ducks, where he spent five seasons before retiring. During his career, he also won two of the NHL’s most prestigious awards. He won the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance the same season he returned to hockey following his cancer battle.
Four seasons later he won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, a player who does great things for his community and is a leader both on and off the ice. Another award Koivu was the exact definition of, he had a great NHL career as did his younger brother Mikko.
Tenure with the Wild
Mikko Koivu was drafted by the Wild in the first round, sixth overall, in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. However, he didn’t make his NHL debut until four years later during the 2005-06 season, playing under Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire. He remained with them for the next 15 seasons, and recorded a lot of milestones along the way.
As it’s widely known, Koivu was named the Wild’s first permanent captain going into his fifth season under then-head coach Todd Richards. He remained the captain through a total of five different coaches, all of whom felt he was the right fit. He played in nine postseasons for the Wild, and led the team to seven playoff appearances, six of them right in a row.
During his career in Minnesota, he set quite a few franchise records. The first one was for the most games played, with 1,028. That record is pretty safe for the foreseeable future, considering the second-place player is over 280 games behind. The next record is most assists, with 504, and that’s another one that is pretty safe, considering Koivu has an advantage of 200+. What’s even more impressive than those is his third record, for the franchise high in points.
Through his time with the Wild, he accumulated 709 points, and again his record is safe for now with the second-place player over 270 points behind. He even set the franchise record for shots on goal with 2,270, the gap to second place is a little bigger with over a 560-shot difference. He was the best at snatching the puck off of opponents’ sticks, which he did a whopping 699 times in his Wild career, and set the franchise record once again.
Koivu was one of the Wild’s very best at the power play. He set the franchise record for the most power play points with 251. However, he wasn’t only good on the power play, he was also good on the penalty kill and had the most shorthanded points with 25. All of these stats point to one thing: he was very good at what he did and was a great presence on the Wild roster.
Why Koivu is Deserving
Koivu deserves to be named the best Wild player of all-time because he is the best. He leads many categories despite not being with the team anymore. He led the team wonderfully, and ended up playing with many great fellow Wild players and saw many come and go. Players in the early days like Wes Walz, Marián Gáborík, Pascal Dupuis, Pavol Demitra, Brent Burns, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, several of these players made the top 10 list alongside Koivu.
In the later days, he was alongside players like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikael Granlund, Jared Spurgeon, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, and Kevin Fiala. He always gave 110 percent and also played extremely disciplined. If it wasn’t for Jonathan Toews already having the nickname “Captain Serious”, it easily could have been Koivu’s nickname, for how determined he always looked while playing.
Something that really stands out to make him deserving as well is how he ended his career. The Wild ultimately decided to part ways with their first permanent captain prior to this last season. Koivu then went on to sign a one-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets but only played seven games for them before deciding to retire.
The reason behind his choice Koivu told NHL.com was, “Kind of what it came down to was, I wasn’t able to play at the level I want to play at. What I feel for myself, if I can’t do the job on the ice the way I want to do it, it also impacts me in the room and the things that I trust and I wanted to do year in and year out so far.”
He chose to retire because he couldn’t play at the level he wanted to, and rather than try to drag out his career as long as he could, he decided to go out on a high note. He may have only played seven games, but he still managed to score a goal and an assist for two points in his final season at the age of 38. Koivu was an outstanding player for the Wild, he earned the No. 1 distinction, and will remain there for a long time.
Check out the rest of the Top 10 List:
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW as well as a cohost on the THW Youtube show Chicks & Sticks which produces a new show every Friday. She’s been covering the Wild at THW for just over eight months and has been on Chicks & Sticks since it started in early May. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team.