Over the last month, we’ve seen Brent Burns, Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Martin Havlat, and (recently) James Sheppard move between Minnesota and San Jose. But when all is said and done, Charlie Coyle could be the most important player involved in the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks offseason version of Trading Places. Yet as we speak, he’s easily the most unknown player of the lot. So who is Charlie Coyle and why did the Minnesota Wild insist on acquiring him as part of the Brent Burns blockbuster trade in June?
First, the obvious: Coyle’s a big boy. A year after he was drafted, the soon-to-be Boston University sophomore is 6’3” and tipping the scales around 220 lbs. He’s a long, rangy player who has been growing into his body at BU, but he was also known as a very good skater coming out of the draft. While he’s at his best when he grinding below the circles and fighting for position in front of the net, he also has above average ice-vision and passing abilities. He’s big, he’s getting stronger, he has great hands, and he’s not afraid to go to the high traffic areas. Put all that together and you have a pretty talented player with a high ceiling.
He played American Tier III Junior A hockey in the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL). The combination of playing in weak Junior A league and the fact that he was a late bloomer caused him to drop a little further in the draft than if he had produced in a more recognizable league. Even when he was drafted 28th overall by the Sharks, he still became the highest ever draft pick from the league.
Last season was a much different story. Instead of just being known as Tony Amonte’s nephew, Coyle started to make a name for himself. He scored 7 goals and 19 assists for the Terriers en route to winning Hockey East’s Rookie of the Year honors. At the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, Coyle threw his own personal coming-out party on the international stage. Coyle shot up the depth chart until he found himself playing on the top line for Team USA on a team that was supposed to be stacked down the middle for the WJC. Anyone who had questions about the level of his competition in the past quickly saw that among the world’s best prospects, his star shone as bright as any other.
The success wasn’t any surprise to Chuck Fletcher or the Minnesota Wild scouting staff. They had the South Shore alum ranked in the middle of the first round in the 2010 draft—when the Sharks and Wild started talking about a trade involving Brent Burns, Minnesota’s staff jumped at the opportunity to nab the player they coveted a year before. GM Fletcher is on record that Coyle had to be part of the trade for Brent Burns or there would be no deal. Not too bad for a guy who has never played an NHL game and only has one year of major college hockey under his belt.
The move to acquire Coyle, Setoguchi, and the Sharks 1st round pick is part of a bigger shift in organization thinking from Minnesota management. They took a step back and reevaluated where the team stands on NHL landscape and what they need to do become successful. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher quickly got to the heart of the matter after trading Burns at the draft with a healthy dose of honesty:
“In order to complete with the top teams in the league, we have to add more talent.”
Aside from flashy Finland native Mikael Granlund, the Wild don’t have many forward prospects that project as offensive players at the NHL level. At this point, Coyle looks like he’ll fulfill his potential as a Top 6 power forward in the NHL sometime in the near future. He’s slated to spend at least another year with BU developing his game and putting on muscle, and hopefully serving in a leadership role with Team USA at the World Junior Championships. After the season, the organization will be able to make a decision on his future. If he continues to progress at the same rate, he’ll be in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Coyle is excited about the direction of his new team:
“It’s kind of cool to think about — they have all these young guys coming. Every team is different. San Jose is trying to load their team for next year. Minnesota is trying to build their team for coming years — it’s going to be special to see how they’re going to be in a few years.”
Coyle will be a one of those players to keep an eye on over the next few years. The old axiom for trades is simple: whoever gets the best player wins the trade. For now, Brent Burns is the best player in the trade—but Coyle is the type of player who has the potential to flip that logic on its head. Give him another year in college and another year with Team USA against the world’s best Under-20 prospects and Coyle just may be the best player who comes out of that trade.
That’s exactly what the Wild organization is betting on.