As the key piece in the Brent Burns trade, Charlie Coyle had a lot to live up to. Gifted with good size, decent speed, and hands, Coyle has all the tools to be a successful player in the NHL. He did then, and he does now. He packs versatility with the center/wing flexibility. He’s almost everything an NHL GM would want in a prototypical player. The only issue with Coyle has been that all that prototypical size and skill has been a giant tease.
After posting 48 points in 26 games in prep academy, followed by 63 points in 42 games in his draft year, Coyle certainly had the bonafides of a first round pick. Picked by the Sharks in 2010 at number 28 overall, Chuck Fletcher was banking on that scoring to translate to the higher levels. He tried his shot at the college ranks, but couldn’t find the back of the net with nearly as much frequency when he was a part of the Boston University program. After just 16 games in his second season at BU, Coyle took a step down to the QMJHL and scored 38 points in 23 games for the St. John Sea Dogs.
The promise he showed showed that it struggled to translate then and should have been a red flag.
Coyle is no-doubt an NHL player. He showed that he was projecting upward from 14 points his rookie season to 56 points in his most successful season coming just two seasons ago. He’s dazzled with some unreal stick handling to score on the Oilers. He’s shown the strength to take over a line shift all by himself by skating through a group of players while still retaining the puck. Coyle could get hot and be the scorer everyone thought he was going to be.
Until he goes cold. Over his time with the Wild, Coyle’s excessively long cold streaks. He’s currently mired in a seven game pointless streak. He had another seven game pointless streak just earlier this season. Last season he had two 12-game goalless streaks. With 44 games of post-season experience, he has just 15 points. All that size and skill has been a great tease. The points just never came as expected.
HAS TO DO WITH MINDSET
Coyle has been the good soldier for the Minnesota Wild. Being able to move positions, being willing to move positions, and not really complain about any of it is a trait that is commendable. He’s a real team player. But if you watched over the years, Coyle’s generosity has torpedoed his own performance. Early in his career he deferred to vets on his line like Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. He did the board work, and then found his linemates making the scoring plays.
Even now, Coyle is very much a perimeter player. There’s been times where he has avoided taking a lane to the net, or had the puck on his stick at point-blank range and has stick handled himself into a worse shooting angle. Early this season, Charlie Coyle was given the puck with a lane to the net, but instead took the long way around. The play irked fans then, it irks them now.
It was a choice by Coyle to avoid the scoring area of the ice with a defenseman out of position. In his final game in Minnesota, Coyle had the puck on his stick at the top of the crease with his team behind by a goal. Rather than shoot, he took it upon himself to try and dangle around Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller, and in the process taking him out of a prime shooting area.
According to Sean Tierney at Charting Hockey, Coyle's average shot distance was 25 ft from the net. If you want to know why his points never blossomed over the 50 point mark consistently, it's because the power forward type that he was supposed to become never was fully realized. He just didn't have the mindset to attack the net and stayed along the perimeter.
It's not just location, location, location either with Coyle's shooting. It's straight up lack of volume. This season he was credited with 1.88 shots per game. He’s not a play driver either. While just above 50 percent for his career in the shot attempts percentage, when he’s on a line where he needs to be that guy, as we saw earlier this season, that line got buried to the tune of the 30th percentile in shot attempts. Watch his game, and he needs to be hand cuffed to forwards that can make things happen. Those on the Wild that could do that were Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, and Nino Niederreiter.
NOT ALL HIS FAULT
Some of the reason Coyle's points were depressed was his willingness to play through injury. After having a good stretch down the stretch in 2014, prior to the Western Conference Quarterfinals again the Avalanche it would become known that Coyle had played with separated shoulders during the two series Minnesota was in.
Just last year Coyle needed surgery to repair torn tendons in both of his wrists. Even with the pain, Coyle chose to play through it all even though it was clear it affected his play.
Being the Iron Man for the Wild was definitely a badge of honor for Coyle, but injuries both last year and in 2013-14 hampered his growth.
Coyle is a guy you want to root for. He's a great ambassador for the team. He’s always there to answer the questions after the game no matter if they're good or bad games. He waves to kids in the stands and makes them the happiest kids ever.
Boston is getting a solid NHL player. Make no bones about that. However, when you look back on his career, he’s always shown flashes of brilliance but always left his coaches, GMs, and fans wanting more from him. More consistency, more tenacity, more fire, and more attack, and that mindset would made him into a top-tier player. He just may not have that in him.
And that’s fine. He’s still a guy that can play good hockey and deserves to be in the NHL. It’s too bad it never worked out for him to realize that full potential in Minnesota. Here’s hoping he flourishes in Boston. It’s hard not to root for him.