In a season that the team's fate was tied directly to the progression of the Wild's youthful players, none was quicker to show they were ready to step up to the challenge than Charlie Coyle. Mired in a stagnant salary cap trap with heavy and immovable veteran contracts, general manager Chuck Fletcher's ability to improve the team was limited in the offseason and the Wild returned a very similar roster to a team that was looking to improve on its Western Conference semi-final exit via sweep the Chicago Blackhawks. That improvement would have to come from veterans getting back to their game and from the maturation of the players still coming into their prime. When you think of players who have taken a step in their development this year, the first name that comes to mind has to be Coyle, who has had a breakout year in a scoring role while also providing the team the flexibility to handle his position whether playing center or wing and thus making his case as the team's most valuable player.
Let's start with the obvious. Charlie Coyle's previous personal records were 12 goals and 35 points. He shattered both marks this season amassing 21 goals and 42 points (with one game remaining), which is good for 6th on the team, ahead of hired guns Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, who he shares some role responsibility with. Coyle led the team in goals scored for a good stretch of the season until Zach Parise's recent outburst during the Wild's last winning streak. He is just 3 assists shy of his personal best of 24, while playing in a much different role this year than he has been previously deployed. He leads the team with a 15.2% shooting percentage. He is one of just three players to have played in all 81 games this far and is set to complete the season with a perfect attendance record. Besides bouncing between wing and center this season, his addition to the penalty kill has been a catalyst in transitioning one of the league's worst back into a team strength down the stretch.
Coyle's flexibility to play multiple positions competently adds another dimension to a team that is short on depth down the middle. Though his scoring touch was obviously ignited by his shift to the wing, his ability to jump back to the pivot has allowed Mikael Granlund to take some shifts on the wing and also ignite his scoring touch. This also adds different attributes to both lines when the players flip, and can confuse opponent defenders and the coaches who deploy them. Taking a look at Coyle's impact when sharing the ice with his teammates below, we can see that playing with Coyle almost universally results in the team taking more shots on goal. We can also see that with a couple exceptions, playing with Coyle also results in less shots being taken against the Wild. And beyond playing some big penalty kill minutes, Coyle has also contributed power play time as the big body crashing the net.
Beyond outpacing scoring expectations for the season, Coyle has also started to display signs of leadership with his play. During the terrible stretch in which the Wild lost 13 out of 14 games and Mike Yeo was let go, Coyle was the shining bright spot on the team, playing a consistent game and continuing to contribute when times were tough. He elevated its game when the team woke up and is a major factor in the Wild making it to the postseason. He's had big moments with points streaks and a shootout winner against Chicago. Though it's hard to believe with Zach Parise still around, Pat Michletti has stated he believes Coyle is the heir-apparent to the captaincy of the Wild. So, with a career year in scoring, pushing the team through filling his many roles, and his developing leadership qualities, Charlie Coyle has proven himself to be a cornerstone this team should build around and is a fitting nominee of the 2015-16 Wild MVP.