By Warren Kozireski–
To say the transition for New York Islanders 2016 fourth round draft pick (120th overall) Otto Koivula to both a new country and his first season against professionals in North America has gone well is an understatement.
Add that he changed positions from left wing to center at the tender age of 20 and the level of impressiveness increases.
The 6’4” 225 lb. Nokia, Finland native leads the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in plus/minus at +16 (good for 8th among all AHL rookies), he stood second on the team in points with 41 (7th among AHL rookies) and he was third in goals as of March 19.
“The first ten games was pretty rough; I didn’t get that much ice time and I didn’t play that well, but after that it’s been great,” Koivula said in early March. “The first month I was getting used to new stuff.
As for the position change, Koivula has embraced the switch to center.
“First game was a little weird to be a center, but after that it’s been good. I like to be a centerman—more skating and being involved in the game more, so I love that. I want to be a two-way centerman. I like to play defense and offense and I want to do that in the future too.”
Koivula spent most of his later development years with the Ilves program and played for Team Finland at both the U-20 World Juniors in 2017 and 2018 and was excited to see some of his former teammates take the gold medal this past tournament.
“I didn’t watch that much, but I watched the final of course. It’s a big thing in Finland. It was a huge win for us.”
The knock on Koivula since even before he was drafted is on his skating. Some scouts had said that it would keep him out of the NHL, but he is proving them wrong so far in his first professional season.
“It’s been improving. We have a good skating coach back in Bridgeport—Bernie (Cassell) is a very good coach and we’re working on my skating almost every day before the actual practice.
“It’s getting better and I’m very happy about that. I just need a little more time to get it where I want. Month by month, but there is a lot of work left. That will be my summer, like it’s been my summer the past ten years.”
But this summer he will have proven to himself and the Islanders organization that he can compete at the next level. That may be worth an extra step.