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Coyle, Eriksson Ek, Greenway line takes center stage

All three are big and can play center ... and it's got the potential to cause problems for opponents

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- During the first week of training camp, the line of Jordan Greenway, Charlie Coyle and Joel Eriksson Ek has taken center stage. 

It really has been the center of attention. 

It's been at the middle of everything good the Wild has done.

Puns aside, the line has been one of the bright spots for Minnesota, now just over a week away from opening night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 4.

Greenway, Coyle and Eriksson Ek -- all centers at some point in their hockey careers -- have come together to form a group that can defeat opponents in any number of ways.

Video: Centers of attention

They can produce offensively. They can defend. And they are big, with Eriksson Ek coming in the smallest at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. 

"That's going to be huge, having us as a line, having that third line that can go down and play that big game and wear down those centers and d-men," Coyle said. "We'll have those shifts where, we don't necessarily have to score, but have those chances and those are going to come from us playing big and supporting each other and competing, banging bodies."

Eriksson Ek is perhaps the most experienced at the center position, but was moved to the left wing by Wild coach Bruce Boudreau at the start of camp, mostly because he wanted to see what Greenway could do at center.

A pivot for much of last season at Boston University, Greenway's 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame is invaluable down the middle of the rink and behind the goal, where he uses his strength to win battles and set up teammates for chances. 

What started as a preseason experiment has morphed into something Boudreau could keep together once the regular season ends, especially if it continues to produce the kinds of results seen so far.

"They just work so hard and they're all very big and strong guys," Boudreau said. "Once they get on you, they're like a dog on a bone."

Greenway said the move to center last season by then-BU coach David Quinn, now head coach of the New York Rangers, got him more involved in the game. 

While there were times he could float through games, Greenway is now engaged in both ends of the rink. And with his frame, combined with his skill and surprising skating ability, that's causing problems for opponents.

"I think it gives me a little more of a role, keeps me involved," Greenway said. "I enjoyed it a lot at BU. When Quinn moved me there, I think I played a lot better."

Greenway acknowledged there have been some adjustments to make and a learning curve as he gains more experience at the position, but what better way to get your feet wet than on a line with two others comfortable at the position.

When retreating into the defensive zone, any of the three can sink low into the zone, filling the traditional center's role in that half of the rink.

"It makes it easier coming back because I don't always have to be the first guy back to play center," Greenway said. "[Coyle] can go down low, Ek can go down low. It's definitely helpful."

The roster flexibility created by having so many centers is something Boudreau has always been a fan of, as it gives the Wild options in case of injury.

Beyond Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, and Eric Fehr, any of the three can play center in a pinch. So can Mikael Granlund, Matt Read and Matt Hendricks in a pinch.

"I love that, quite frankly. Anyone who has ever asked me, I always prefer five centers in a lineup in case somebody goes down," Boudreau said. "If you only have four and somebody goes down, converting a winger who doesn't play center or isn't a natural centerman is a lot tougher."

Boudreau began the season wanting to find Coyle, who has bounced back and forth between center and wing the past few years, a permanent home.

Coming off an injury-plagued season a year ago, Coyle has skated at right wing through the first week and scored a hat trick in the Wild's 7-0 win against Colorado on Saturday night. 

The Wild hopes its a sign of things to come.

"If Charlie ever gets the habit of continuing to shoot that will be a pretty nice thing," Boudreau said. "Charlie's always wanted to do really good. He's hard on himself, that's one of the things I've known about him from his career. 

"We're hoping that if he has some success, he will see that it begets success if he continues to do what he's doing. He could be a very big part of this team that no one outside of us knew. They look at the stats from last year, they say we don't have enough scoring, but if Charlie gets back on track, that's a big part of it."


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