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Mikko Koivu likely will matter far more next season to the Wild than any player the team brings in this offseason.

Star Tribune file, Star Tribune file

Rand: Pivotal players are already here for local teams

  • July 4, 2013 - 11:48 PM

Much of the local sports conversation lately has centered upon player movement among our various pro teams. What players are coming in, which ones are leaving, and how much will it make a difference?

Greg Jennings gives the Vikings renewed life, as do their three first-round picks. The Wild shook things up with a draft-day trade and will be looking for more roster overhauling. The Timberwolves retained Chase Budinger, who barely played in his first season with the Wolves because of an injury, and added shooting guard Kevin Martin to go with their draft class.

All of this is well and good. But this seems like a good time to offer a reminder that the real players who will make or break those three teams likely already existed on their rosters before all the moving and shaking began. More specifically, these three players — one from each team — will be hugely influential on their team’s success next season and will be the target of much adulation or scorn from the public depending on how things go:

• Mikko Koivu, Wild: Part of the push to get Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last offseason was to supplement a key piece the Wild already had in place in Koivu. But after the captain went without a point and was a minus-6 in the team’s five-game playoff series loss to the Blackhawks, he comes into 2013-14 with plenty to prove and achieve if the Wild is going to take another step forward.

• Kevin Love, Wolves: At his best (2011-12), Love is a versatile, game-changing forward and one of the top 20 players in the NBA. At his worst (2012-13), he appears pouty, injury-prone and unhappy to be here. The Wolves need to stay healthy and focused this season; a healthy and motivated Love could make the Wolves one of the top eight teams in the Western Conference this year.

• Christian Ponder, Vikings: Minnesota grabbed Jennings in free agency and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round. They also brought in Matt Cassel, a backup QB option with far more accomplishments than Ponder’s competition had a year ago. Translation: This is Ponder’s make-or-break year, and a chance to find out if Minnesota made the playoffs because of him or despite him last season.

MICHAEL RAND

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