Charlie Coyle will be the X-factor in the Brent Burns trade

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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.

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brayden Schenn scoring at will as domination continues

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What’s the limit for Brayden Schenn?

Curious and inquiring minds, like PHT’s own James O’Brien, want to know. 

Add Schenn’s opposition to the list of people looking for answers. They surely want the madness to end.

But Schenn appears disinterested in letting cooler heads prevail. He is, of course, red hot at the moment. And he’s quickly turning into a fearsome goal scorer that is increasingly harder to contain.

Schenn buried his 16th of the season on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres some 40 seconds into the game. The goal, which can be seen below, was Schenn’s sixth in his past four games and a marker than extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.

Some wondered how Schenn would cope with the loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is out for at least six weeks because of an ankle injury. 

He answered that in under a minute.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Schenn was on pace for 41 goals and 98 points. He’d crush his previous career highs if his torrid play continues.

For the time being, Schenn is the leading candidate for the top off-season acquisition in the NHL.

How bad is Ron Hextall kicking himself at the moment? A few months ago he had Schenn and didn’t have Jori Lehtera.

The cringe faces must be excellent. Surely.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

  • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
  • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
  • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
  • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck