Mikko Koivu

Under Pressure: Mikko Koivu

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Minnesota Wild, we pick… captain Mikko Koivu.

On the surface, Koivu had a solid 2013 campaign. He finished second on the team with 37 points and captained the Wild to their first postseason appearance in four years.

But dig a little deeper, and cracks start to show.

Koivu scored 33 of his 37 points in the first three months of the season, followed by a tough April-May stretch that saw his production dry up and Minnesota struggle.

Koivu scored just one goal and four points in 14 April games, a slump that coincided with the Wild going 5-8-1 to close out the year, backing into the eighth and final playoff spot — and a first-round date with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

It was in that opening round where Koivu’s struggles got worse.

From the Minnesota Star-Tribune:

In his first playoff series since he was given the captain’s “C’’ Koivu played like a man unfamiliar with the job description during the Wild’s 5-2 loss to Chicago in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals…

…The Wild’s braintrust loves to defend Koivu by citing all the little things he does right, but the Wild, in this series, needs him to show up on something other than a microscope.

It’s a difficult challenge, facing the Blackhawks’ top line, but if the Wild is going to make a series of this, Koivu will need to at least be one of Minnesota’s better players.

So far, he hasn’t been close.

That nightmarish performance (minus-3, three minor penalties, 46 percent in the faceoff circle and just two shots on goal) was the low point, though things didn’t get much better. Koivu finished the series minus-6 overall and failed to score a single point.

Following the series, head coach Mike Yeo tried to put a brave face on things.

“I feel bad for Mikko,” Yeo explained. “He did a lot of the right things… and just didn’t get rewarded.”

Which brings us to the 2013-14 campaign.

Koivu enters not just a leader, but rather the leader — Minnesota never had a full-time captain prior to Koivu in 2009, having rotated the “C” for the first nine years of its existence.

There are challengers to the leadership mantle, though.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter arrived to great fanfare, signed more lucrative contracts and were given alternate captaincies immediately upon their arrival — and within a year, Parise led the team in scoring and Suter earned a Norris nomination as the league’s top defenseman.

But this is still Koivu’s team until otherwise noted. That, along with his hefty $6.75 million cap hit, should raise the stakes for what promises to be a crucial year. The Wild have much higher aspirations than squeaking into the postseason and winning one game — they’re spending to the max and want to make a playoff run.

“We can’t say that we haven’t made the playoffs in four years,” Yeo explained. “We made the playoffs last year. And now our focus is on something bigger than that.”

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Report: Ekblad cleared by Panthers doctors

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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Aaron Ekblad has been medically cleared by Florida Panthers doctors, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

That’s a big relief for everyone involved after Ekblad was injured while representing Team North America in the World Cup. The injury was originally reported as a “mild” concussion, though it was later called a neck injury.

The 20-year-old has since been back on the ice working out.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said. “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

The first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Eklbad had already dealt with at least one concussion during his playing career. He suffered one in an international exhibition game during the summer of 2014, just prior to his outstanding rookie season with the Panthers.

Ottawa sends Brown, 11th overall draft pick, back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Logan Brown celebrates with the Ottawa Senators after being selected 11th overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It didn’t take long for one of the top picks at this year’s draft to be sent packing from training camp.

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced that Logan Brown — the 11th overall selection in June — has been sent back to his junior team in OHL Windsor.

Brown, the son of ex-NHL defenseman Jeff Brown, played in Monday’s exhibition win over Toronto and scored once. He didn’t play in Tuesday’s OT loss to Buffalo.

Though he wasn’t expected to make the team this season, Brown, 18, is considered to be a high-end prospect, which makes his early dismissal a bit curious.

At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he has terrific size and the Sens wasted little time locking him in after the draft, signing him to a three-year, entry-level deal in August.

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Logan Brown

Seidenberg expected to sign with Islanders

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Dennis Seidenberg is expected to sign with the New York Islanders after the World Cup, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

It’s a one-year, $1 million deal, per Dreger.

Seidenberg is currently playing a significant role for Team Europe, a surprise finalist against the heavily favored Canadians.

The 35-year-old defenseman was unexpectedly bought out by the Boston Bruins over the summer. He had two years remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $4 million.

Seidenberg was a key part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup champion team in 2011, but injuries limited him to just 61 games last season, and his average ice time fell below 20 minutes for the first time since he was with the Hurricanes in 2007-08.

He’ll likely take on a bottom-pairing role with the Islanders, below Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Calvin de Haan. He may even be the extra defenseman, pushing the likes of Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield for a spot in the lineup.

Related: Seidenberg shocked by Bruins’ decision

Devils bolster defense, ink Quincey to one-year, $1.25M deal

Detroit Red Wings v Columbus Blue Jackets
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New Jersey needed some blueline depth after this summer’s blockbuster Adam Larsson-for-Taylor Hall trade and now, they’ve addressed it.

On Wednesday, GM Ray Shero announced the club signed veteran defenseman Kyle Quincey to a one-year, $1.25 million deal.

Quincey, 31, spent the last four seasons in Detroit, emerging as a regular fixture on defense — but ’15-16 was hardly a positive campaign.

He missed 35 games with a serious ankle injury and, upon his return, never seemed to find his way into head coach Jeff Blashill’s good graces.

Blashill even scratched Quincey in Game 3 of Detroit’s opening-round playoff loss to Tampa, and didn’t provide a reason why — a pretty bold move for a player that, in ’13-14, appeared in all 82 games for the Red Wings, averaging nearly 21 minutes per night.

Overall, this move seems like a pretty reasonable gamble from the Devils. Quincey has his flaws, but the term is short and the money is relatively low.

(Especially considering Quincey’s coming off a two-year, $8.5 million deal that paid $4.25M annually.)

Shero could end up getting a nice return on his investment. Quincey projects  to challenge for top-four minutes in New Jersey, looking to break into a group that features the likes of Andy Greene, Damon Severson, John Moore and Ben Lovejoy.

Jon Merrill, Steve Santini and Brandon Gormley are also in that mix, though likely to be challenging for spots on the bottom pair.