Jim Souhan
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Mikko Koivu gulped what looked like a protein shake. In front of his locker sat full and empty bottles of water and other sports drinks.

Just how many different liquids does he consume after a game?

“That’s a secret,” he said, smiling.

For Koivu, this is stand-up comedy. As earnest an athlete as you’ll meet, Koivu isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to make you slap your knee but this season he has earned pats on the back.

Remember what we used to say, or hear, about Koivu?

He had not aged well. He was no longer a first-line center. He didn’t deserve the captain’s C. His shot was too balky for the power play. He was overpaid, expendable.

This season, Koivu has dropped gloves and pummeled every criticism ever leveled at him. He might not be the Wild’s best player but he is centering the best line on the Western Conference’s best team, he is his team’s best faceoff specialist and his calm and two-way tenacity have proved ideal in Bruce Boudreau’s room and system.

This is where players, fans and homers might argue that Koivu has proved everyone wrong. They might even use words such as “doubters” and “haters,” two of the silliest in the English and perhaps Finnish languages.

Koivu hasn’t proved former criticisms wrong. All were accurate at some point. But he has put them in the past, making the praise he’s receiving now earned and easy.

Sunday, Koivu’s play was both routine and brilliant in the Wild’s 6-3 victory over Detroit. He made two beautiful cross-ice passes in the first period that produced power-play goals, and another just before the first-period horn that Mikael Granlund tipped inches wide of the post.

Koivu is on pace for a career best in goals and his best point total since 2011. He has become a fixture on the power play and no one is calling for his C to be stripped. He’s even become an author.

He wrote an article in the Players’ Tribune in which he thanked Minnesotans.

“I think for myself it was important to get my word across, the way people have always treated us, myself and my family here, and how important the city and the state are for us and what it means to us,” he said. “That’s not always easy to get across when I talk after the game to you guys. Hopefully that is the message that people get from it and they know how much we appreciate how we’ve been treated since day one here.”

The website wouldn’t have been interested if he and his team weren’t playing so well. Sunday, the Wild looked sloppy and didn’t break away until the third period. The Wild remains securely in first place in the conference and keeps winning games that might have served as potholes in past Februarys.

Asked why he’s playing well this season, Koivu said: “Usually when the team is doing good, individuals step up as well. There are a lot of reasons. The way you prepare for the season, being able to stay healthy, knock on wood.

“Being able to play with the same guys throughout the year, for the most part. Work ethic, not just individually but as a team. The way we play the game, the way we do little things right, that’s behind the success. You see that, too, on video — the work ethic as the reason for our success.”

Boudreau noted that Koivu was successful on the power play last season. “I never even thought of him not being on the power play,” Boudreau said. “He can make a play. He’s a very smart player. I think if there was ever a problem with him, he thought so much ‘defense’ — that’s why maybe his numbers were never as good as people thought they should be.”

Koivu still plays defense but seems looser both off the ice and while moving into the offensive zone.

This month, Koivu wrote an article and cracked a joke. “Mikko: The Musical” can’t be far away.

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com