Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Koivu returns tonight vs. Vancouver; Stoner placed on IR; Lots of interest in Ruutu

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: February 9, 2012 - 12:53 PM

UPDATED

Morning from Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild and Canucks renew their rivalry tonight. Live from the Xcel Energy Center arena cam just so you can see my bald spot, I'll be on NHL Live on NHL Network at 5:30 p.m. CT

Captain Mikko Koivu will return tonight after missing eight games with a shoulder injury. He missed two days shy of four weeks since being injured Jan. 14 in St. Louis. He skated on his old line with Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley.

Coach Mike Yeo jokingly said he plans to manage Koivu's ice time by "getting him out there as much as possible."

He said it was a tough decision to break up the Heatley-Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson line, but he says it's important to surround Koivu with top players because he's so important and that he feels Heatley is playing so well right now, it'll help Koivu.

Erik Christensen will move to wing with Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck. Yeo believes that gives the line a Pierre-Marc Bouchard makeup on the wing, and that trio was an effective line. Brodziak and Johnson looked like they would play with Carson McMillan, which means Brad Staubitz, Warren Peters and Darroll Powe will be a line.

Jed Ortmeyer cleared waivers and was reassigned to Houston.

Niklas Backstrom in goal. Matt Kassian and Mike Lundin are scratched.

Lundin's got to be patient. I don't see the Wild just trading him for a marginal asset right now because Clayton Stoner has been placed on injured reserve with some kind of leg injury around his hip. He got hurt very early in the Cody McLeod fight in Colorado last week. Yeo said he is week to week.

Marco Scandella did return to the Houston lineup last night after missing about a week with a leg injury.

Yeo expects a more energetic Wild group tonight than the one in Columbus, for one because the opponent is Vancouver.

"I think our group is going to be ready to respond after last game," Yeo said.

Again, no update on Guillaume Latendresse or Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Chuck Fletcher told me again this morning that unless there's a stroke of luck, he's not assuming either will play again this season.

I want to correct something with the Nate Prosser contract extension. He was to become a restricted free agent this summer, but because he's a three-year pro and over 25 and there was no way of him getting to 80 career games this year, his status was going to change after the season to a Group 6 unrestricted free agent. That is why the Wild wanted to sign him now. I originally reported he was going to become a restricted free agent.

Because of the above, there's no urgency to re-sign Johnson or Justin Falk. However, if for some reason Johnson can't get to 80 games including playoffs by the end of the year, he too would go from becoming a restricted free agent to unrestricted. He'll play his 60th career game tonight. Falk is in the same boat, but since he's 23, he will remain restricted even if he doesn't get to 80 career games this year.

So maybe the Wild re-sign Johnson now, although frankly, he's gotten such a great opportunity here, I can't imagine he'd bail as a free agent. The Wild wants him back. He should be back.

As for the Canucks, Henrik Sedin, who blocked a shot on his ankle in Nashville, skated this morning. He's a game-time decision, but it sounds like he's a go to play his 553rd consecutive game. No fracture.

Cory Schneider will start in goal for the Canucks -- his fourth straight start in Minnesota. Even though Roberto Luongo has shut out the Wild three consecutive times, he's been pulled in his last three in Minnesota and is 0-3 with a 7.00 goals against average and .768 save percentage. I'll tell ya what -- if it looks like the Wild could be Vancouver's first-round playoff opponent when they next arrive in March, Luongo should start here. His struggles in Minnesota would be a massive playoff topic if he doesn't get a game and play well here.

Was just chatting with Luongo. I can't believe he's almost 33. I covered him for a long time in Florida. I still remember in 2000 when the Panthers showed up here in Minnesota. 0-0 shutout to go winless in eight. Luongo still remembered his quote, saying he never thought he'd get his first shutout before his first win as a Panther. I also remember him sitting in that same stall after the 2004 All-Star Game here.

"I'm the second-oldest guy on my team. Time flies!" Luongo said.

It really does. I was chatting with Radek Dvorak here a few weeks ago. He plays for Dallas now. His rookie year in Florida in 1995 was my rookie year in Florida -- so to speak.

In other news, I just got off the phone with Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford. I believe the Wild has strong interest in Tuomo Ruutu, but the price according to Rutherford is "real high" based on the amount of teams interested in him. Rutherford will talk to Ruutu's agent to see what it'll take to re-sign the free-agent-to-be. He hopes to have a decision by the first of next week as to whether he'll trade or re-sign Ruutu.

Unless the price for Ruutu comes down, I can't see the Wild giving up any of its top prospects for a rental. But Ruutu is a great player and lots of teams, including the Wild, are lining up.

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