CALGARY, ALBERTA - Mikko Koivu remembers his first NHL game like it was yesterday. It was Nov. 5, 2005, in San Jose, and Koivu was downright jittery.
"First shift, they hit the crossbar," said Koivu, whose debut was delayed 14 games because he sprained his knee in the Wild's final exhibition game against Buffalo in Rochester, N.Y.
"I was like, 'Where am I? I should not even be on the ice.' "
Monday in Calgary, Koivu skated in his 500th regular-season contest, almost 12 years after he was selected sixth overall by the Wild in the 2001 draft. He scored the decisive shootout goal in a 2-1 victory.
"It's a good feeling and makes you think about what has been and how fast it goes," said Koivu, 29.
Koivu ranks first in Wild history with 260 assists, fourth in games played, third with 110 goals, second with 370 points (67 short of Marian Gaborik) and second with 86 multi-point games.
When it comes to work ethic, coach Mike Yeo hasn't seen anybody like Koivu.
"I cannot recall a single game that I've been coaching him where I thought his effort or battle level was less than what you'd expect. And what you expect is so high for him," Yeo said. "It's unbelievable when you watch video how he competes on pucks, and how he works and just the overall emotion he plays the game with."
Yeo says Koivu is "vastly underrated and deserves a lot more attention."
He is not underrated in Flames captain Jarome Iginla's eyes.
"Very competitive," Iginla said of Koivu. "When you get ready to play him, you know you're in for a good battle. You expect it to be tough, so you can't get frustrated. You have to keep working because he's a guy I can't remember having too many rough games against us."
Koivu said his blue-collar style has been there since he was a kid.
He was taught two-way hockey by his father, Jukka, but most importantly, taught that work ethic is the most important thing.
"You learn to be ready when the puck drops," Koivu said. "You can have bad practices or bad pregame skates, but what matters is you're ready to go when the puck drops. That's the style of hockey I play and without that, I'm not playing a good game."
With Koivu full-time captain the past three years, the Wild hasn't made the playoffs. Koivu says that bothers him and "when you're gone, you realize how much fun it is and how bad you want to be here."
Lately, Koivu, as the man wearing the "C," has taken flak for the Wild's postseason absences. Of course, it took second-half injuries to Koivu the past two years for the Wild to really go belly-up. Yeo says the scrutiny is unfair.
"I'll sit here and stand in front of everybody and say that we would have made the playoffs last year if he didn't get hurt," said, Yeo, referring to the 23 games Koivu missed with a shoulder injury. "Believe me with Mikko, there's no issue of him not having the ability to get us there."
Brodin sticking around
Jonas Brodin, 19, has played so well, Yeo said Monday morning, that the 2011 first-round pick won't be returning to Houston.
"He's an NHL defenseman ... and a very good one," Yeo said.
Brodin played his ninth NHL game Monday.
Spurgeon could play
After taking part in Sunday's optional practice, Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (foot) also took part in Monday's morning skate.
While Yeo wishes Spurgeon could get in some full practices (the Wild isn't scheduled to practice next until Saturday), the coach didn't rule out Spurgeon returning to play Tuesday night in Vancouver.
Spurgeon has missed nine games.