The first ever permanent captain of the Minnesota Wild, Mikko Koivu, is sitting at 499 career NHL games played right now. Tonight, when his team plays the Calgary Flames, he’ll hit number 500 while playing for the only NHL team ever to be on his resume.
Koivu followed in the footsteps of older brother Saku by deciding to play hockey, first with the Finnish top league team TPS Turku in his hometown. That team had another family tie: the Koivu brothers’ father, Jukka, used to be the head coach over there. Keep in mind that he joined the team at the age of 17, playing alongside and against grown men much older than him. In the summer of 2001, the Wild picked him sixth overall at the draft, held that year in sunny Florida. Koivu joined other 2001 first-rounders like Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and Mike Komisarek.
But then, he went back home to Finland and spent three more years with TPS, playing more, honing his skills and playing in four different international championship tournaments: the 2000 and 2001 U18s as well as the 2001 and 2002 World Junior. He won medals in all four.
His NHL debut was delayed a year due to the 2004-05 lockout, so instead he played in the AHL with Minnesota’s farm team, the Houston Aeros, and notched 48 points in 67 games. Once the doors were open in the big time again, he graduated to the highest level, where he has been ever since. His most productive season to date was 2009-10, when he scored 22 goals and added 49 assists for 71 points total.
He also started coming up in Wild leadership ranks. The Wild named him a permanent alternate captain for the 2008-09 campaign, but since they rotated the captaincy on a monthly basis–a bit like employee of the month designations–but then he was also named captain for October and November. This made people wonder if they were just going to go ahead and make him captain permanently, but then he wasn’t wearing the C in December. Of course, he was right back at it in January, though.
However, in October 2009, the team decided to rethink their leadership roles and named Koivu the first-ever permanent captain in their history. He was also announced as the cover model for the localized Finnish version of the NHL 10 video game and named the best Finnish player on NHL.com in 2009. Before the massive signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were even a thing, Koivu was given the franchise’s then-largest contract extension in 2010: seven years, $47 million.
He’s been part of the Leijonat, or the Finnish national team, at two different Olympics: 2006 and 2010, winning silver and bronze respectively. After having to miss some World Championships while nursing injuries, he returned for the 2011 tourney and won gold as Finland’s captain.
An issue for the famously competitive Koivu is the fact that his Wild haven’t seen the postseason since 2008. Sure, this means he’s been able to go play for his native land at international tournaments held while the Stanley Cup playoffs are also happening, but it’s not the same.
After Koivu plays three more games, he’ll exceed the Wild’s current third place holder on their all-time games played list. Marian Gaborik, who is now with the New York Rangers, occupies that spot right now. It won’t take long for Koivu to get there, but it will take him a bit more effort to meet and exceed Gaborik’s all time scoring leading 437 points since Koivu has 361 to his name.
Now then, if Koivu has Saku’s game total in his sights, that’s going to take quite a while more to meet since older brother has just over 1,000 NHL games played so far and is nowhere near done yet.
Here are a few video highlights from Koivu:
This is possibly the slickest commercial I’ve ever seen that features a hockey player.
Koivu scores an overtime goal on his former teammate, Jose Theodore.
After Justin Faulk sends the puck into the offensive zone, Koivu follows it there, holds it in and puts it home.
It’s unconventional, but this is Koivu’s first goal of the 2013 season.
On a return to TPS Turku during the most recent lockout, Koivu puts up a goal. (Check out how soaked in ads the typical SM-liiga arena is.)