ST. PAUL, Minn. — By most expectations, Charlie Coyle is still growing into his 6-foot-2 frame, with many seeing the 21-year-old rookie forward for the Minnesota Wild eventually settling in as a prototypical NHL power forward.
At 21 years old, Coyle’s body, even at 205 pounds now, is still maturing. One of the reasons Coyle is up with Minnesota this season, his first since turning pro, is his size to go along with unique skill. The size is one asset that has been talked about since Coyle was acquired by the Wild in a draft-day trade in 2011 from the San Jose Sharks.
Coyle was just 19 at the time and still at Boston University. He was a first-round pick the previous year by San Jose. But even then his size had scouts drooling, and left opposing players amazed.
“He’s really not that strong,” fellow Minnesota rookie forward Jason Zucker joked last week. “It’s crazy. I played against him in college and he was the same way. He would have four or five guys draped on him and he seems to never lose the puck. It’s pretty incredible. He’s one guy that I can definitely say that’s my age that is by far stronger than me. He’s proving it now too. He did it in the (American Hockey League). He’s doing it here. It’s pretty incredible to watch.”
Coyle amazed everyone last week and showed just what has Minnesota excited for his future potential with a dominating shift against the Vancouver Canucks. Coyle controlled the puck in the offensive zone, allowed his team to change behind him and the Wild scored soon after with an important goal in a big win because of Coyle’s work.
“We had a good shift,” Coyle understated after the game. “Almost got my bell rung I think there, but I don’t know how I stayed up.”
Coyle was chased by Vancouver defenseman Jason Garrison (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) around the back of the Canucks’ goal when defenseman Dan Hamhuis (6-foot-1, 209 pounds) came in and sandwiched Coyle along with Garrison. Hamhuis simply bounced off Coyle and fell to the ice, while Coyle kept control of the puck.
After getting tripped up, Coyle sent the puck across the ice — keeping it alive in the offensive zone and leading to a shot by Jonas Brodin. Coyle got back to his feet, received a pass in the corner before giving Vancouver’s Jordan Schroeder (admittedly only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds) a shoulder to create space. Coyle went to the net, passed to Ryan Suter, who shot, and Parise picked up the rebound and scored.
“It was awesome,” Parise said after the game. “He’s come a long way, he really has. I think he’s learning, as our Mikko (Koivu) and I, how to play together and we’re finding where each other are. We’re talking all the time. I think right now we’re getting to that point where, for the most part, we know where the other guy is and that goes a long way. For him to outmuscle those three guys along the corner, he’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Since being recalled from the Houston Aeros of the AHL for the second time this season, Coyle has two goals and two assists in 11 games. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 4 and played five games, going scoreless, before being returned to Houston, where he has 14 goals and 11 assists in 47 games.
Wild coach Mike Yeo is entrusting his young forward by playing Coyle with Parise and Koivu on the team’s top line. Coyle is starting to fill the role Minnesota hopes he holds for many years to come.
“I feel like his game keeps getting better,” Yeo said last week. “He continues to play with consistency, and because of the way he plays the game it allows him to do that. He’s not a high-risk player. He’s so strong on pucks that he can muscle guys off and take a look and make sure that he’s making a tape-to-tape play and not a high-risk of forced play. Certainly I believe that he has the ability to keep going and if not keep getting better, and that’s what we’ve seen the last couple weeks.”
The short stint back in Houston helped Coyle. He says he’s more comfortable and said the coaches told him not to change his game; use his body, win battles along the boards and go to the net.
“This being my second time up, I definitely have more confidence in myself,” Coyle said. “Not trying to do too much, just play my game, just play hockey. Definitely playing with (Parise and Koivu) makes it easier, they’re great players. You learn a lot coming to the rink every day just watching them, and playing with them as well. So, I’m glad where I am right now with this team.”
Yeo likes how Coyle fits with Parise and Koivu on the top line, but he also wants the team’s bevy of young players, like Coyle, Zucker and Brodin, to earn their stay in the NHL. Coyle, who usually sports the No. 3, won’t get the chance to switch from No. 63 just yet, Yeo joked after Coyle’s big game against the Canucks.
“I think what’s really important for all young kids, is to make sure that you stay in the moment,” Yeo said later. “Certainly he’s coming off a couple really good games. What’s important for these guys is to make sure they continue to back it up and remember what they do when they’re playing well. And for Charlie, I don’t think that’s that difficult. His strengths are obvious. His size, his puck control ability, hockey sense and I think that he has a really good understanding of those things and because of that he’s had consistency in his game where he’s gone out and brought those things night after night.”