Wild center Mikko Koivu said Saturday's game won't be the final test of his readiness. He has many more benchmarks to meet before he will consider himself fully healed, after knee surgery last February brought a premature end to his season.
That doesn't make him any less excited about his return. Koivu is expected to play his first game of the preseason against Colorado at Xcel Energy Center, giving him an initial idea of how his right knee will feel at game speed. During Friday's practice at Tria Rink, he centered Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin on the third line, sharing that duty with Joel Eriksson Ek.
Koivu had surgery Feb. 8 to repair a torn ACL and meniscus. He is keeping his expectations low for his first game in 7½ months, hoping just to feel comfortable enough to continue moving forward.
"It's the next step in the process,'' Koivu said. "I'm ready for it. You've got to get into the game action; it's always different from practice, or even a scrimmage with your own teammates.
"I want to get out there and play and see how it feels, and how I feel overall. There are still a lot of steps to take to be 100 percent. But this is a step you've got to take, and I think it's time."
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau anticipates Koivu's puck handling will be rusty after the long layoff, but he won't be judging him on that. Boudreau wants to get a look at Koivu's stamina and leg strength.
"He works so hard out there, you know he's working his best to get back," Boudreau said. "Hopefully, it will happen sooner rather than later."
Fiala on his way
Kevin Fiala, who has been stuck in Europe while his U.S. work visa was being processed, finally has his documents in hand. The forward was scheduled to arrive in Minnesota on Friday night and practice with the team Saturday.
If he appears ready to play, Boudreau plans to put him in the lineup for Sunday's preseason game at Colorado.
Fiala did not sign his two-year, $6 million contract until Sept. 11, and he could not start the visa application process until then.
"I haven't seen him yet," Boudreau said. "If he's in great shape, yeah, why not [play] Sunday? If he's in [OK] shape, we'll see. I don't want him to get hurt."
Roster reduced by 18
The Wild cut its roster to 37 Friday afternoon.
Forwards Will Bitten, Connor Dewar, Brandon Duhaime, Ivan Lodnia and Dmitry Sokolov; defensemen Brennan Menell and Stepan Falkovsky; and goaltenders Dereck Baribeau, Kaapo Kahkonen and Mat Robson were assigned to Iowa, and forward Alexander Khovanov was sent back to Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Also reporting to Iowa will be forwards Oliver Archambault, Kyle Bauman, Mitch McLain and Tyler Sheehy; and defenseman Nicholas Boka, Alex Breton and Jack Sadek, who were all released from professional tryout contracts.
Robson, Sheehy and Sadek are former Gophers.
• Defenseman Greg Pateryn still has not played a preseason game, and he did not practice Friday. Boudreau said Pateryn has a lower-body injury that is persistent but not serious. The timetable for his return has not been established.
• The Wild used three different power-play units in Friday's practice, emphasizing its wealth of options. As nice as that sounds, having so many players clamoring for power-play time does present a challenge for Boudreau. He said he will "work them all in'' during preseason play, giving everyone a chance to show what they can contribute. "There is a logjam,'' Boudreau said. "Look at all the guys that are used to playing the power play. And we've got new guys knocking at the door."