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.

Video: Johansen, Fisher join in Predators’ conference title celebration

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After reaching their first ever Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators topped that in a big way, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

There were a lot of firsts and rarities along the way.

In ousting the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 victory in Game 6, GM David Poile’s team advanced to the championship round for the first time in his lengthy time as an executive.

Peter Laviolette also became the fourth coach in NHL history to bring three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. The Predators are also the first 16th seed to make it this far.

Yep, that’s a long list of milestones (and not a comprehensive one). And, to think, the Predators haven’t even been on the brink of elimination during the postseason yet.

It’s special stuff, so don’t be surprised by the boisterous celebration you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

P.K. Subban: No city in the NHL ‘has anything on Nashville’

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If there’s one thing we can agree upon about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s that these months have really cemented just how hockey-mad Nashville has become for its Predators.

(Yes, you can call it “Smashville” if you’d like.)

The scene at Bridgestone Arena was as boisterous as ever in the Predators’ 6-3 Game 6 win against the Anaheim Ducks, with legions of fans packing and surrounding the building.

Sights like these have becoming resoundingly normal for a hockey market that was once questioned by media and other fan bases:

Yeah, wow.

As the Predators advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, plenty of people were making jokes at the expense of the Montreal Canadiens for trading P.K. Subban. Of course, Subban wouldn’t take a shot at the Habs during such a great moment, but his praise for puck-nutty Predators fans says a lot in itself.

“I played in an A+ market my whole career,” Subban said, via Jeremy K. Gover of the Nashville Predators Radio Network. “There’s not a city in the league that has anything on Nashville.”

Whether their opponent is the Pittsburgh Penguins or Ottawa Senators, we already know that Nashville will begin the Stanley Cup Final on the road. That’s OK … Predators fans might need some time to get their voices back and recover from celebrating, so waiting until Games 3 and 4 might be a blessing in disguise.

Ducks’ Cogliano just doesn’t think Predators were the better team

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The Anaheim Ducks battled their way to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, but Colton Sissons and the Nashville Predators ended their season on Monday.

The Ducks are processing that disappointment – being just two wins away from a trip to the championship round – and some of their reactions might spark a little controversy.

Specifically, it sounds a bit like Bruce Boudreau believing that his Minnesota Wild were superior to the St. Louis Blues despite falling in that series.

Andrew Cogliano, it must be noted, was spurned by Pekka Rinne on some early chances in Game 6. He likely feels as frustrated as any Ducks player right now.

Sisson’s hat-trick goal, making it 4-3 before two empty-netters cemented the 6-3 finish, was the dagger that finally put the hard-working Ducks down.

One can understand some of those feelings from Anaheim, especially considering the frustration of a) getting over Jonathan Bernier‘s early struggles to make a very real game of this and b) occasionally carrying the play in a dramatic way, including in Game 6.

Still, the Predators got the right combination of great stretches of play from Rinne and strong work from the expected and the unexpected, such as Sissons.

For an aging star like Ryan Getzlaf – a player who produced some of his best work late in the season and during the playoffs – you have to wonder how many chances remain.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.