Young Koivu a Wild force

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

When your brother is Saku Koivu, it's not easy to escape the long shadow of his 12-year NHL career.

For the 24-year-old Mikko Koivu, though, the jokes are becoming more of a rarity as he establishes himself with the Minnesota Wild.

"It's not easy but I think it's helped him," said teammate and close friend Kurtis Foster.

"I think the guys give him a hard time and call him Saku once in a while, and he gets mad about it, but he got to go through (the NHL experience) early where a lot of us younger guys didn't. He got to see what his brother had to go through. With his brother having cancer and seeing the battle he had to do just to get back to health, I think Mikko cherishes every minute he has in the NHL."

There haven't been many minutes so far. Koivu is in just his third season with the Wild and has improved every year.

He more than doubled his point total from freshman to sophomore year and has started strong with three goals and three assists in his first eight games this season.

Used extensively on the powerplay and penalty kill, Koivu has earned the trust of coach Jacques Lemaire, who raved about the Finn's skills.

"The guy right now that I have the extreme confidence in is Mikko," Lemaire said last week amid the Wild's 7-0-1 start. "Anybody would. It's not because I'm different. I'm like other people. You like him? Well, I like him, too. How couldn't you? Look how he plays."

The way he plays is with confidence, aggression, and composure that belies his age. Maybe it runs in the family.

"I don't know his brother very well, but I've played against him plenty, and he's got the same kind of characteristics," said Brian Rolston.

"It's just a gradual thing, but you could tell right from the beginning how poised he is as a young player.

"Even two years ago when he came in. I'm not surprised at all at the evolution of his game. I think this organization has a bright, bright future with him."

For Koivu, his play is a reflection of his contentment.

"I feel comfortable. It's my third year in Minnesota and around the rink I feel comfortable. I really enjoy my time here," he said.

"Things like what's part of your normal life -- the bills, groceries, whatever -- it's all different than what it is back home."


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