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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All signs point toward Mikko Koivu's return Monday

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: March 2, 2014 - 1:49 PM

All signs point toward Mikko Koivu returning Monday night against the Calgary Flames.

Koivu, who has missed 17 games since undergoing ankle surgery Jan. 6, skated on a line with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle throughout Sunday’s practice at Braemar and retained his spot on the top power-play unit.

Coach Mike Yeo said he had a great practice and said a few times, “we’re excited to get him back.”

Officially though, the Wild will take the decision into Monday morning to make sure Koivu’s ankle feels good after he wakes up and after one last morning skate.

In practice today, the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line stayed intact.

“It’s the coaches who make the decisions and players, it’s our job to create chemistry with different players,” Koivu said. “Injuries are a part of the game and you’re going to have different guys and different lines. I think with Heater, it would be easy because we’ve played a lot of games together and with Charlie, [I’ve played with him]. I think it’s a matter of time more for myself to get on their speed of the game so I can help them out.

“I don’t think it really matters right now who you’re playing with. I think every guy is playing great and we’ve had to adjust the lines all season long and every single night it’s been some combination or some individual who steps up and makes the play to get us points. It’s huge, but like I said, it’s more about me getting to the level I want to help them and it helps that I’ve played with those two guys in the past.”

Yeo likes the makeup of the line.

“It’s a big line,” Yeo said. “First off, three guys that can control the puck, three guys that are really tough to defend. Mikko’s had chemistry with both Heater and Charlie in the past, too. Hopefully there’s not too much of a feeling out process. But I just think that it gives us an opportunity to have a line that’s out there with the ability to create offense every night that’s hard to play against.”

Matt Cooke skated with Kyle Brodziak and Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula centered Torrey Mitchell and Justin Fontaine. Stephane Veilleux looks like he’d be the extra if Koivu returns.

So, basically, the trickle down effect of Koivu’s return initially would have Coyle move from center to right wing, Niederreiter to go from second line to third, Fontaine from third to fourth. Or, basically exactly what we predicted on the blog last week.

This is a good thing. Basically, as Parise said today, every team has its opening night roster every year and it never quite works out to what you want it to be all year long because of injuries.

But since the second period of the second game of the season when Coyle sprained his knee, the Wild has never had its full roster together. Against Calgary, if Koivu and defenseman Marco Scandella return, it will.

Koivu’s return makes the Wild deeper and could potentially give the Wild four deep lines.

The Wild also suddenly has two formidable power-play units. Koivu, the all-time Wild leader in power-play points, took his spot again with Parise. Coyle, to give the Wild a needed righty down low, moves to the top unit with Pominville and Ryan Suter at the points. The second unit consisted of Heatley-Granlund-Niederreiter with Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon up top. That’s three lefties down low, which could make things tricky, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Fontaine gets some time or they move Spurgeon down to that left circle position to attempt one-timers.

Suter and Spurgeon were a pair today, while Scandella was with Brodin. The third pair, if Scandella returns, will be two of Keith Ballard, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser. I don’t know how you take Prosser out the way he’s been playing, so if Scandella returns, Ballard or Stoner will likely be taken out.

Darcy Kuemper will make his 15th consecutive start.

Scandella says he’s ready, but like with Koivu, Yeo said they’ll take the final decision into Monday morning.

Monday will be the first-ever Mikael Granlund vs. Markus Granlund game. The younger Granlund will play his third NHL game. He was drafted in 2011 in St. Paul.

As for the game, Mikael Granlund said, “I feel really proud for my parents. It’s very special.”

Jason Zucker, by the way, skated on his own today.

That’s it for now. Nothing new on the goalie front. Here's my column on the goalie trade front today. I think it goes to Wednesday. If the Wild’s the only team out there really searching for a goalie, if I’m Chuck Fletcher, I use that as leverage to let acquisition prices for Jaroslav Halak or Marty Brodeur or whoever drop.

Again, Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., you can go over the 23-man roster as long as you don’t go over the cap ceiling. So the Wild could very well carry three goalies the rest of the season. If the Wild has three goalies, that means one won’t dress every game. That could create an interesting dynamic, but the Wild doesn’t seen too concerned. As Fletcher always says, “I just want to win,” so he’s not going to worry about feelings.

And as we learned in the playoffs last year when suddenly Kuemper was playing games because Backstrom and Josh Harding got hurt, you can never have too much depth. It’s better having more players than too little.

Speaking of depth, remember when the Wild was always a Mikko Koivu injury away from disaster every year? Pretty impressive that the team, which is 13-4-2 in 2014, is 11-4-2 without him. Says so much about the improved depth of the team and the job the Wild’s youngsters have done to this point.

As Parise said, maybe all the long-term injuries the Wild has had this year, from Koivu to Parise to Harding to Spurgeon to Coyle to Granlund, has made the Wild a better team for these final 21 games.

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