Aatos Koivu’s life has taken a radical turn in recent days. Rewarded for his excellent offensive performances this season, Saku’s son received a first call-up from the Finnish national team, which invited him to a preparatory tournament for the Under-18 World Cup.
The story wrote itself: young Aatos will wear the jersey that his father wore with passion and honor during his great career on the international scene.
The media apparatus has been activated in Finland.
“It just blew up in the media,” says former NHL goaltender Fredrik Norrena, Aatos’ coach at the TPS Turku under-20 team, on the line. He was not that famous and in a week and a half he became the most followed player under 18 in the country.
The Koivu family tries to protect the young man through this raging madness. The author of these lines tried to get an interview with Aatos, but was kindly explained that it would not be possible.
“Obviously, Saku is trying to protect Aatos now,” Norrena explains. The family wants him to stay away from the media for now.”
The reasons are very reasonable. All titles refer to “Son of Saku”. Pressure that can become difficult to bear.
“Let Aatos be Aatos,” pleads Norrena. Let him chart his own path. Saku’s brother, Mikko, also went there. He was a few years younger and (the comparison game) was also difficult for him to deal with.”
An outstanding debut
When news broke in early September that a certain Aatos Koivu was eligible for the next call, netizens were surprised to realize he weighed just 126 pounds, at 5-foot-11, according to the EliteProspects database.
Also due to this lack of physical maturity, the name Aatos has not really resonated in recent years, both in North America and in Finland. The young striker didn’t break anything, hand to heart.
However, we have seen significant growth in Aatos over the past eight months.
“His physique has developed significantly over the past year,” notes Norrena. It’s a strange thing to say considering he’s only 17, but he’s a bit of a late bloomer. He has gotten stronger and it shows in his skating and ability to win puck battles.
“His shooting has also gotten better. He always had good vision and great skill with the puck, but he could not show these qualities due to his physical deficiency.
EliteProspects has updated Aatos’ measurements to now weigh in at 165 lbs.
Result: Aatos Koivu is simply not the same player on the ice this season. After dominating the under-18 team with 15 points in as many games, TPS Turku’s decision-makers moved him to the under-20 team.
“You could see during the playoffs last year that he improved a lot,” Norrena recalls. I told myself then that he could play with us next year. Then, after 15 games this season, he was the best player on his 18-and-under team.
Aatos’ debut for the U20 side was resounding: eight points, including five goals, in five games.
“I didn’t expect him to score almost two points per game when he arrived, but I can’t say I’m overly surprised by his success either,” added Norrena. I use it in the first wave of the power play, in Ovechkin’s office, and it has a great shot. Not everyone at this age can shoot one-offs like he’s capable of.”
A weak and flimsy player barely on the radar a few months ago, Aatos has become a player to watch in Finland, as much in the eyes of fans and reporters as among recruiters, with the aforementioned successes.
“It’s not just journalists who want to talk to him now,” says Norrena. Recruiters are also becoming interested in him. All the scouts want to talk to him, because they still have to do their homework in preparation for the draft.
“Imagine being almost unknown and suddenly becoming the most popular “U18″ player in the country. That’s a lot for him for now.”
Aatos, whom Norrena describes as a maverick, is not exactly like his father Saku or his uncle Mikko.
“He is not a typical Koiv,” the former goalkeeper describes with a laugh. I played with Mikko and Saku with TPS and the national team, but also against them in the NHL. Saku was more of a playmaker. Mikko was an extremely effective two-way center. Aatos has good vision, but his identity is more of a shooter than a passer.”
However, we can notice some similarities.
“Aatos has his father’s agility in tight spaces and the ability to challenge opposing players one-on-one,” Norrena points out.
It is impossible to ignore this goal that Aatos recently scored in the shootout in the colors of Finland. The young man used a trick that his father used brilliantly in the then Montreal Canadiens.
“Her father used this fraud against me on several occasions,” Norrena points out. It’s not pleasant (laughs). Saku was one of the first players to use this cheat in the 90s. I’m sure Aatos watched his father’s announcement and his father taught him a few tricks.
But make no mistake: Saku doesn’t act like he’s his son’s coach and lets the existing staff manage Aatos.
“Saku is on the board of TPS. I’d say he’s more interested in the organization as a whole. Of course, he is around the team and you see him at our games from time to time, but he is more like a father to Aatos. It’s better that way. He lets us work.
“I think there’s a bond of trust, a belief on his part that we know what we’re doing.”
This is reassuring. Too much involvement of a father in his son’s career can have harmful consequences. We might remember the sad story of the former Canadiens striker, once very promising, who now plays in the KHL…