Charlie Coyle was relaxing on his couch and enjoying watching the 2011 NHL Entry Draft when he got a phone call that would change his travel plans.
Coyle had been drafted in the first round (28th overall) by the San Jose Sharks in 2010 and had just purchased plane tickets to San Jose for the Sharks upcoming developmental camp.
The Minnesota Wild had other plans.
Coyle was called and told the Wild had acquired his rights. Coyle, along with winger Devin Setoguchi and a first-round pick — which the Wild used to draft Zack Phillips — were swapped for defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round pick.
“There’s no way this deal gets done if Charlie Coyle’s not in it,” Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said in his post-trade press conference. “We feel he’s one of the top young power forwards in the game.”
The Weymouth, Mass., native played his freshman year at Boston University putting up 26 points in 37 games. Midway through his sophomore season he signed with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in hockey,” Coyle said. “I just wanted to leave the school phase behind and focus 100 percent on hockey. Everyone has their own path to where they want to be and that’s the one I chose.”
In 23 regular season games with the Sea Dogs, Coyle worked on developing his offensive game and put up 38 points (15-23=38) helping lead Saint John to its second-straight President’s Cup title. Coyle was also named MVP of the playoffs.
He started this season with the Houston Aeros, the Wild’s AHL affiliate. Due to the NHL lockout some of the top young NHL players were playing for American Hockey League affiliates and Coyle was able to match up against these players to develop even more.
“It gave those good young players three months of unbelievable pro hockey experience,” Jim Mill, Aeros General Manager, said. “Charlie has great size, skating ability and instincts and he was probably the best forward we had in Houston from Game One until the NHL season opened.”
On Feb. 3, the Wild recalled Coyle from Houston to make his NHL debut. He played five games for the club, before being reassigned to the Aeros on Feb. 14. Coyle’s reassignment was short however, as he was called up for his second stint on Feb. 22 and has been with the team ever since.
In Coyle’s first game back with Minnesota he scored his first-career NHL goal, coming in Calgary against the Flames.
“After my first stint up here I got to go back down to Houston and regrouped,” Coyle said. “It was nice to get my feet wet and (since being recalled again) I have more confidence and comfortable out there and I’m not overthinking things.”
The rookie was inserted on the Wild’s first line alongside Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, two of the top two-way players in the league.
Coyle’s size and strength was on display in his most memorable shift of the season, coming in the third period of a March 10 game against division-rival Vancouver.
With the Wild on the fore-check, Coyle had possession of the puck behind the net and took it out. The Canucks’ Jason Garrison along with Dan Hamuis crowded Coyle and tried to take the puck.
Garrison was unable to get around Coyle’s body to poke check the puck away while Hamuis tried to check Coyle. The result? Big Country, as he was affectionately called in Houston, skated through the check and Hamuis was flung backwards. Keeping possession of the puck, Coyle looked to skate towards the blue line but Mason Raymond tripped him from behind. As he was falling down he still managed to pass the puck.
Getting back to his feet, Coyle again moved down to the corner wall to receive the puck. Vancouver’s Jordan Schroeder tried to muscle Coyle off the puck, but Coyle brushed him off and exploded through Schroeder with his shoulder. Showing impressive quickness for a 6-2, 210 pound forward, he nimbly skated out from the corner and passed to Ryan Suter who fired a shot on goal.
“One thing I’m happy he worked on from last year was his quickness along the wall,” Wild Director of Player Development, Brad Bombardir said. “Being able to protect the puck, draw players to him and use his speed to beat the player or gain space. That’s one aspect of his game that he’s been able to be effective for that line.”
Vancouver goalie Corey Schneider gave up a rebound and Parise pounced on the puck and got it around Schneider’s skate to put Minnesota ahead 4-2. The entire goal was set up from Coyle’s non-stop work and raw power on the puck.
“Charlie has done a really good job protecting the puck down low,” Parise said. “He’s getting more and more comfortable and used to playing in the NHL.”
The right-winger has had his learning moments, but has impressed teammates with his ability to shrug off and play through his mistakes.
“We’ve all been there as a player when you’re trying to crack into the league, it can be intimidating at times,” Parise continued. “Everyone is going to make mistakes, you don’t want to overload him with telling him what to do; you just want to let him play. That’s been Charlie’s strength, he’s able to brush things off and bounce back with a good shift the next time.”
One thing Coyle has definitely learned is to keep his head up when he has the puck. When the Wild was playing the Red Wings in Detroit on March 20, Coyle was about to enter the neutral zone, but Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall had other ideas.
The Swede is so known for his big hits, they have become a verb. A huge open ice hit from the Red Wings assistant captain has become known as a ‘Kronwallian’.
Kronwall pretended like he was going to backskate the other way, but instead crushed Coyle with a vicious check. To his credit, Coyle took the hit and shook it off without incident.
“My first goal was nice, but yeah I’d like to go with the Kronwall hit,” Charlie Coyle said laughing when asked about his ‘Welcome to the NHL moment’. “It was a nice hit that woke me up.”
That has been about the only time that Coyle and his grown man sized frame has gotten the worst of a collision on the ice this season.
With the acquisition of Jason Pominville on the NHL’s Trade Deadline Day, Coyle has been seeing time away from the first line. He still has been showing growth in his game evidenced by an excellent game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
Able to keep possession in the offensive zone by himself allowed the Wild to make an entire line change on the power play. He was rewarded seconds later when Devin Setoguchi fed the puck to rookie Mikael Granlund — Coyle’s linemate in Houston — who threaded a cross-ice pass to Coyle for a one-time tap in goal against Sergei Bobrovsky.
It was Coyle’s first career power play goal and his third goal in the Wild’s past five games.
True to Coyle’s nature though the 21-year-old showed little emotion in his goal. He went back to the bench, sat down and concentrated on his next shift.