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Position: C
Shoots: Left
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 182
Birth Date: 11/23/1974
Birth Country: Finland (Turku)
Year Drafted: 1993
Round Drafted: 1
Overall Choice: 21
Salary 2003/04: $4,250,000.00

HW 2004 Mid-Season Scouting Report

He started the year without a training camp and without the first 14 games. After a five game adjustment period, he’s been a point per game player and has been seen on the bench repeatedly standing up and rallying the troops. He’s making dazzling plays on the ice, has improved his game defensively, and still manages to lay out the occasional opponent now and again.

And yet he still struggles for respect.

Koivu has improved steadily this year to the point where he looks like he’s playing better than at any point in his career. He’s lightning fast with the puck, stickhandles in traffic better than anyone I’ve seen, and is making more and more aggressive and assertive plays in the offensive zone. His skating is quick and deceptive and his lateral movements are sharp and unannounced. His puckhandling is well above average and his vision is near elite. His playmaking ability does place him in the elite and he makes those playing on his line better players. Defensively he’s maintaining great position, takes out his man well, is tenacious in his coverage, and understands and plays the system.

Off the ice, he’s the first to talk to the media, and while it’s his responsibility with the ‘C’, he does it with dignity, respect, and class. Rumours of his problems in dealing with some players in the dressing room might be something of a problem, but considering who the two main players are, it’s not that hard to understand as each has a rather large ego.

The debates will rage on for sure, but as I see it, particularly with the way he’s playing these days, Koivu is an elite centre and is top-10 in the game today. He’s an all-around player who is a strong leader. Those who think his leadership style isn’t conducive to winning can look over to Detroit where Stevie Y took the same heat…right until he hoisted the Cup above his shoulders.

Koivu’s recovery from cancer and comeback season were impressive, but what’s more impressive is that it was just that, a recovery season after missing a year after having recovered from cancer. What you’re seeing today is what Koivu can bring to the table consistently – and yet he still improving! If he could get two true first-line wingers he’d be deadly. I’m not taking anything away from Bulis or Ryder, but they aren’t there…yet.

Wonderful is that he’s managing all this within the system, which some (Jagr) would find confining. Great is that he’s a real team player and sticks up for anyone on the team, even Theo (with whom he supposedly has a rift). Fantastic is that he does it all consistently, showing a desire and intensity night after night that’s remarkable.

On the downside, he has to learn to curb that Scandinavian temper of his. Those Finns make the Irish look meek! A couple of times his reactionary penalties have wreaked havoc. Also, while he keeps his shifts short and sweet, there are times when I wish he’d take that extra stride to get to the bench faster, as on occasion he tends to get the Habs caught on a slow change.

Of course, if those are the only problems he’s got, then Hab fans can be rather pleased. Koivu is among the games best for sure.

Saku Koivu was drafted 21st overall in the 1993 Entry Draft by the Montréal Canadiens. Two seasons later, he made his NHL debut and scored his first NHL goal on October 23 against the Kings’ Byron Dafoe. He played all 82 games that season and finished fourth in rookie scoring with 45 points. In 1996-97, Saku got off to a terrific start and finished the season at better than a point per game (56 points in 50 games) despite losing a number of games to injury. In 1997-98, Saku again missed a number of games, but this time managed to participate in the mid-season All-Star Game and lead the team with 43 assists in 69 games. At season’s end, he ranked 39th on The Hockey News’ Top 50 NHL Players poll. After missing more games in 1998-99 (he played just 65 games and scored 44 points), Saku missed the majority of the 1999-2000 season with injury and played just 24 games (21 points).

In 2000-01, Saku co-led the Canadiens with 30 assists and 47 points despite being limited to just 54 games as a result of more injuries.

Source: The National Hockey League Players Association