ROSEVILLE, Minn. — Charlie Coyle’s smile comes easy these days, the result of hard work, determination and foresight that is about to pay off for the Minnesota Wild prospect.
Coyle can almost feel his dream of playing in the NHL about to come true. It’s been his singular focus since he was acquired by Minnesota from the San Jose Sharks in a draft-day trade last season. This past year, his sights have been set on making the Wild roster this coming season.
With an NHL job on his mind, Coyle had to make some tough decisions the past year, including leaving Boston University midway through his second season to play junior hockey in Canada. But Coyle, recently ranked as one of the top prospects in all of the NHL, is ready to make his dream come true.
“You want to set your goals high, so I want to be on the big team playing and I’m always going to play for a spot and work as hard as I usually do,” Coyle said Thursday while participating in the final stop of the Minnesota’s summer road tour. “This is my dream. So, yeah, I want to reach it.”
Coyle, 20, is one of seven prospects possibly turning pro this season in what will be a major talent upgrade for a Wild team that has missed the playoffs for four straight years. General manager Chuck Fletcher is excited about the future but has tried to not let the incoming young talent carry the weight of being saviors on the ice. Yet, behind only Finnish phenom Mikael Granlund, Coyle seems to be the player most ready to make an impact at the NHL level.
That readiness is what led Coyle to leave Boston after only 16 games to play for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. From there, his notoriety as a prospect gained steam as he teamed with another highly touted Wild prospect, Zack Phillips, to score 15 goals and pass out 23 assists in 23 regular-season games.
The regular season was just a warm-up as Coyle had a staggering 15 goals and 19 assists in 17 playoff games, further reinforcing to Coyle he made the right choice in leaving Boston early.
“I figured I was most likely going to turn pro after that season,” Coyle said of the decision. “Obviously, the junior season is longer and there’s more games to be played and it’s more of a pro-like schedule. So, I figured going up there would be best for my development, getting more games under my belt. I was going to a pretty good team. I just kind of wanted to leave the school phase behind and focus 100 percent on hockey. I think that was the best bet for me and I think it worked out.”
Teaming with Phillips didn’t hurt either. Playing on the same line, the two seemed to mesh right away, and they couldn’t avoid talking about the possibility of one day playing together in Minnesota.
“We wanted to focus on the task at hand, winning our league and the Memorial Cup and stuff like that,” Coyle said. “But, it was definitely in the back of our minds and we’d chat about it here and there, knowing that we could possibly play together in the future. It was pretty cool to be with a guy who I could be with in the future.”
Fletcher took notice of Coyle’s development and the chemistry with Phillips. Coyle, who signed a pro contract in March, could be the big-bodied (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) power forward the Wild have been lacking and he has the versatility to play center and wing.
“I know it’s junior hockey, but if it was so easy everybody would get three and half points a game and they’re the only two doing it,” Fletcher said at his season-ending press conference in April. “It’s really exciting. I mean, Coyle’s a 215-, 220-pound guy with skill and a work ethic. He’s young. He’s going to need time, I think. But he’s the type of prospect that we don’t have anybody like him in our system.”
Fletcher then added, with a smile: “To have a combination of that size and that skill … as soon as he’s ready, we’ll have a spot for him. Let’s put it that way.”
Coyle was shocked by the trade to Minnesota after being San Jose’s first-round draft pick a year before. He was still in school at Boston and was preparing himself to play in the Sharks’ prospect camp. All that changed when the Wild sent defenseman Brent Burns and a 2012 second-round pick to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, the rights to Coyle and a 2011 first-round pick, which Minnesota used to select Phillips.
Once he got over the surprise of being traded, Coyle made his way to the Wild’s development camp and started a big year for the big forward.
“It’s been different,” Coyle said. “I got traded. It was kind of a shock. I haven’t played an NHL game yet and I’m already being traded. So, it was kind of shocking. But I learned that Minnesota really liked me and they really wanted me, so it made me feel good. It gives me more confidence to do good and try to make the roster.”
The trade to the Wild set in motion the past year’s events for Coyle. And if the past year is any indication, his dream of putting on an NHL sweater will soon cap it all off.