Wild coach Mike Yeo and Mikko Koivu stopped short of declaring the captain ready to return, but all signs point to him being in the lineup for Thursday's home game against Vancouver.
Sidelined since suffering a separated left shoulder on Jan. 14 at St. Louis, Koivu participated in every contact drill Wednesday in practice and reported no problems. If his shoulder responds favorably overnight, he will return to the lineup. That scenario seems likely because the team placed Jed Ortmeyer on waivers to clear a roster spot.
"It's getting better, and each and every day it's getting stronger," Koivu said. "That's a good sign. Being in practice and being involved physically and having contact, you get more comfortable each and every time it happens. It helps a lot conditioning-wise but more important timing-wise."
Koivu worked on a line with Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in practice, and Koivu is expected to center those two when he returns.
"We have to make sure with Mikko coming back, he's such an important part of our team, that we surround him the right way," Yeo said. "Putting him with Seto and Heater gives us a chance to get that line going and contributing."
Koivu said his conditioning feels good and he has regained strength in his shoulder, but his timing with Heatley and Setoguchi might require some work.
"Obviously when you come back from an injury, you've got to be patient," he said. "There are a lot of ways you can help your team. You have to take it step by step and try and help as much as I can. But if we play as a line, it's our job to be good offensively and create momentum for our team and obviously score some goals as well."
Yeo is hopeful that Koivu's return can jump-start Setoguchi's play in particular. Setoguchi has scored only two goals in his past 15 games, is eighth on the team in points and is a team-worst minus-12. That's not the kind of impact the Wild expected when it traded for him last summer.
"I want Seto, for his season to start right now," Yeo said. "He's such an important part of our group. He's played some really good hockey for us at different points of the season. I just want him now to get back in the lineup, play with Mikko, play with Heater, and don't have any hesitation whatsoever in your game. He's a really effective player when he's playing his best. But let's just do it every night, let's have fun doing it and I think that can definitely help ignite him."
Home sweet home
The Wild returns home after a three-game road trip that came on the heels of a January schedule in which it played only three games at Xcel Energy Center.
"It's weird coming into the locker room and not having to pack your bag," defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. "It's nice to be home and get some rest instead of traveling."
The Wild plays seven of its next 10 games at home, and 18 of its final 29 games at the 'X'. Being at home is nice, but only if the Wild takes advantage of it. The team can't afford to feel comfortable just because Koivu is returning and the schedule is favorable.
"You have to go and take it," Koivu said. "It's not just going to happen for you. Every game is a big challenge, especially this time of year. But if you ask any team or player in the league, I think you'd rather play at home than on the road."
Trade deadline looms
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher no doubt is working the phones in an attempt to improve this team before Feb. 27 trade deadline. Yeo was asked about the need to upgrade certain areas to boost his team's playoff push.
"The one thing our entire team needs right now is just to go out on the ice with the idea that we're good enough, because we are," he said. "Obviously if we can do things to make our team better, I know there's not a GM in the league who's working harder than Chuck on this. But we've beaten all the good teams in the West. When we play our game, we've proven what we can do.
"If something happens to make our team better, that's great,'' Yeo added. "I think everybody would welcome that. But we have to focus on what we have and realize that we're good enough."