It's all but a certainty Charlie Coyle will start this season with the Minnesota Wild. Where he'll play is still to be determined.
Coyle was selected in the first round (No. 28) of the 2010 NHL Draft by the San Jose Sharks, but he was traded a year later, along with right wing Devin Setoguchi and a first-round pick in 2011 (center Zack Phillips), to the Wild in exchange for defenseman-turned-forward Brent Burns.
Coyle made a huge impression with Wild brass last season after being promoted from the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League. The 21-year-old was so impressive he found himself playing right wing on Minnesota's top line alongside center Mikko Koivu and left wing Zach Parise. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound native of East Weymouth, Mass., had eight goals and six assists in 37 games in his first taste of NHL hockey.
"Obviously, it's every little kid's dream to make the NHL," Coyle told NHL.com. "But to finally get out there and play and reach that level … it was only half of a season, but it was still the real deal. I learned a lot. I'm with a good organization, a good group of guys, so it was a great experience overall."
He's unlikely to start this season on Minnesota's top line -- veteran Jason Pominville is expected to play right wing with Koivu and Parise -- but Coyle could remain a top-six forward. The question of where he'll play is likely to depend on center Mikael Granlund, another 21-year-old who's vying for a job. Should Granlund make the team, it is conceivable Coyle could be his right wing, with veteran Dany Heatley on the left side.
Whatever happens, Coyle enters training camp with confidence after the success he achieved while skating with Koivu and Parise, who helped him adjust to life in the NHL.
"It definitely gives me confidence from the coaches, knowing that they think I can play up there with those guys," Coyle said. "Just to be on the team was great, and then putting me up there was pretty special, to play with those guys and learn from them every day. They're awesome guys. They're great players and everyone can see that. They're even better guys off the ice. They always helped me with everything I did and made me feel comfortable out there. It was pretty cool to be with those two guys.
"[But] I think it took some time. I'm the little kid on the line, I guess. At the start it was, 'Oh wow, I'm with these two guys. Do I [have] to pass them the puck the whole time?' It takes a little bit to get comfortable. They helped me to do that. Just play hockey and do what I do and create some chemistry with them."
Coyle said he doesn't have a preference which position he plays.
"I really don't," he said. "Literally over the years, I've switched back and forth like every year, it seems like. Wherever they need me, I'd be happy to play. Whatever works for the team."
The Wild are confident he'll be successful at either position.
"Charlie Coyle's a capable centerman," Wild coach Mike Yeo told NHL.com. "He's played it his whole life. He's got a lot of things that you would want in the center position, but he's also a great winger."
Coyle told NHL.com he's spent the summer working on his overall game and his skating as he continues to adjust to the speed at the NHL level. After making a good impression last season, he knows he will arrive at training camp in September with higher expectations from the team and its fan base.
"There's always that pressure with everything," Coyle said. "I have my first year under my belt, so I can't just sit back. I'm not a rookie anymore. I want to be a guy who can contribute and help the team as much as I can in any way I can. There's going to be a lot of guys in that same boat who we want to help the team and not be complacent.
"Last year, I was on the first line most of the time. I can't just think I'm going to be up there again and just kind of like go through the motions. I've got to keep working and put myself in the best position to help the team. I'm looking forward to doing that again."
Coyle's ability to build on what he accomplished last season could go a long way in determining where the Wild finish in 2013-14. He was disappointed after Minnesota was ousted in five games by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, but he said he believes the Wild can build on what they accomplished last season, when they returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008.
"It's never a goal to get knocked out in the first round, but we definitely took a lot of big strides in our team from the previous year," Coyle said. "We're [going] in the right direction. I think every guy sees that, and that's the most important part. I think next year, we'll [be] even better.
"I think it's going to be another good year for us. It should be special, so I'm really looking forward to it."
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Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor