ST. PAUL — Wild general manager Paul Fenton said Friday he believes center Mikko Koivu will be able to return for the start of the season after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee in early February in Buffalo.
“Mikko is doing really well,” Fenton said during a press conference to preview next week’s NHL draft. “He’s got clearance to start to skate. Not with stops and starts and doing all the agility things, but he’s got the ability to start skating is what he said to me.”
The 36-year-old Koivu, who will be entering his 15th NHL season, had eight goals and 21 assists in 48 games last season before he was injured. Fenton, asked if Koivu will be ready for the beginning of the season, said that decision will be up to the doctors.
“I would like him to be healthy because it would just be a really good boost,” Fenton said. “I think he will be. I’m not anticipating, I’m not saying anything medically, but I believe the way he trains and the way that he has been progressing, I believe that he will be ready.”
Fenton also said defenseman Matt Dumba “is doing really well,” after he underwent surgery on a torn pectoral muscle in his right arm in late December. Dumba, who was on pace for 30 goals, had his season ended in fight with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk in mid-December.
Jared Spurgeon, the Wild’s best defenseman, is entering the final season of a four-year, $20.750 contract. There has been speculation the Wild might look to move Spurgeon to get a large return, but Fenton said that isn’t going to happen.
“I have talked to his agent and our plan is to re-sign Jared Spurgeon,” Fenton said. “It is not a plan to trade Jared Spurgeon as has been kind of rumored in the NHL. This guy is a great piece, leader, person, family guy. We want to have him back and we’re going to work on doing that.”
IS EIGHT ENOUGH?
The Wild own eight picks in next weekend’s draft, including the 12th pick in the first round. The last time the team had a selection in the first, second and third rounds was 2012.
“I think the most important thing was continuing to save our draft picks, to make sure that we had a full draft and now we’ve got eight picks this year,” Fenton said. “That’s great. Things had happened here before (with picks being traded). It was done for purpose, it was done to try and get there and win.”
Fenton said he didn’t make deals in his first year as the Wild’s GM that former GM Chuck Fletcher might have made.
“This year, honestly, when Matt Dumba went down we didn’t go out and fill that hole and in the past that probably would have cost an asset,” Fenton said. “I wouldn’t be sitting here today saying that we are picking 12th and we’re going to get something that we’re really happy about. That’s the difference. I tried to look at the whole big picture this year and to see how we were. Then Mikko goes down and two huge pieces like that that just bit into our leadership, our talent level. Just where we were as a team. I decided to go that route and not get rid of any picks.”
Not surprisingly, Fenton said he’s excited by what the Wild might get with the 12th pick. “This year I can confidently say that at 12 we are going to get a very good player,” he said. “It does not matter what the position is. It is going to be a very good player.”
The Wild reportedly has been shopping winger Jason Zucker — Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel reportedly balked at a trade to Minnesota that would have sent Zucker to the Penguins — and Fenton could make a move in the coming days.
“I’ve continued to have active phone calls everywhere,” Fenton said. “All of us do. … It just continues to go on that way. We all talk about everybody all the time. It’s just not individuals, it’s about the whole team. The way you build a team and that’s what I continue to do.
“If I can improve this team by talking to other teams and we see a fit then I’m going to go ahead and do something like that. But for me, having our defense back in place (and we) made the acquisition for all these young forwards that I believe have an upside to grow with us, we might go into the season the way that our team is. When you look at it and you analyze it, you’ve got to see if these kids are going to grow, too. Sometimes you have to show some patience.”
‘WHY CAN’T IT BE THIS TEAM?’
The St. Louis Blues fired coach Mike Yeo in November and were the worst team in the NHL in January. On Wednesday, they won the Stanley Cup by beating Boston in Game 7 of the finals.
“I’m thrilled for them,” Fenton said. “Talk about staying the course and believing in your people and believing in the process, what you put together. (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong did a great job of being patient through this. I give the players all the credit in the world. They knew that they were under scrutiny and underachieving and found a way to chip away and become a group, a team.”
So does the Blues’ turnaround put pressure on a team like the Wild to reverse course quickly after missing the playoffs this season?
“Why can’t it be this team? I guess (that) is the way that you’d have to look at it,” Fenton said of his team “For all of you who watched our team be successful when Matt Dumba was in there and solidified our top four (defensemen), we looked really good from one to six in our defense. Our strength is going to come from our goaltending, through our defense and then it moves up into our forwards. I can still see the same thing happening. It’s a health issue sometimes that affects everything in sports. For us that was a significant injury starting with Matt and then having Mikko go down.”