Sunday, August 12, 2012

One To Watch: Minnesota Wild

The rebuilt Minnesota organization is going to be on the move up the standings over the next few years. A team that has added massive pieces via free agency is also getting young help from within as several key prospects are ready to contribute if called  upon.

It would be understandable if most Minnesota fans have Mikael Granlund on the top of their watch list as the dynamic Finn has been considered one of the top prospects in the world for the past couple years. Granlund finished 6th in SM-Liiga scoring last year with 51 points in 45 games, his 1.13 points per game was actually tops in the league. There is every reason for Wild fans to be excited about his arrival this year. 

Mario Lucia is coming off a championship season in the BCHL and a national title as well with Penticton. He's off to Notre Dame this fall but just wrapped up team USA's U20 camp in Lake Placid and showed well. 

Other key guys in the system include Mathew Dumba, Zack Phillips, Chay Genoway, Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper. But the guy I've singled out will be wearing at least his 4th different jersey in the last 9 months. 

Photo: Saint John Sea Dogs

Charlie Coyle (C)

Houston Aeros?
6'2, 205 lbs
Acquired via trade with San Jose

At this time last year Charlie Coyle was preparing for his sophomore season at Boston University. Playing under legendary NCAA coach Jack Parker, Coyle had made an impressive debut with the Terriers scoring 26 points in 37 games as a freshman. Expectations were high that he would surpass those numbers in year two. 

Coyle was set to help lead Team USA into the 2012 WJC in Alberta as one of the expected statistical and emotional leaders on the squad. He was one of the returning members from the 2011 team that was expected to help push the 2012 team to a podium finish. 

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to Edmonton. News began to leak out of Boston that Coyle was leaving the college to play in the QMJHL but no one had been able to get word from the player, the school or the major junior team. 

I met Team USA at the Edmonton International Airport and was able to get the first confirmation from Coyle

Photo: Andy Devlin
The World Junior Championship was disastrous for USA. A 7th place finish was by no means a fair representation of the talent that had been assembled but injuries and illness played a major factor in that. Coyle himself was affected

Almost immediately after the tournament, Coyle reported to Saint John in the QMJHL, the #1 ranked team in Canada and the favourite to claim the Memorial Cup. The forward was surrounded by strong junior talents like Jonathan Huberdeau, Zack Phillips, Tomas Jurco, Nathan Beaulieu and Stanislav Galiev

It wasn't a surprise that Coyle's offensive numbers started to pile up - he was playing on one of the highest scoring teams in the country and, as disgruntled former coach Jack Parker pointed out, he was now lining up against players his own age or younger.  

Photo: Marc Henwood
In the end, Saint John won the QMJHL crown but failed to win a second consecutive Memorial Cup. Coyle's numbers in Saint John were impressive; 38 points in 23 regular season games followed by 34 in 17 post season contests. 

It's worth noting though that Coyle didn't score in any of the four games the Sea Dogs played at the Memorial Cup. His 5 points at the WJC were OK but were also a far cry from the tournament leaders in Alberta. He'd only managed 3 goals during the first half of the season in his 16 games with Boston University. It's fair to say that for stretches in 2011-12, Coyle struggled to score. 

Physically, Coyle is an imposing player. He's listed at 6'2 and 205 lbs but I wouldn't be surprised if that's outdated by a few pounds. He's a strong, physical player on the ice and I don't see why he couldn't be a prototypical power forward at the next level. 

Photo: Matt Dresens
I'm not yet convinced that he'll be a scorer though and I guess that's what has me most intrigued heading into this coming season. Before Minnesota signed the free agents they did, I wondered if Coyle might fit into the NHL picture this year. Now, I'm not so sure that some time in the AHL might be what's best long term for him.

Does chemistry formed over the last 6 months with Zack Phillips carry over to this season as both are expected to be playing professionally? 

Can Coyle establish some consistency in his offensive production?

Does he get a look in the NHL out of camp or does he begin on the farm to try and work his way up to Minnesota?

I like Coyle a lot both on the ice and as a player. I believe he's going to have a solid and lengthy NHL career but I don't know that it begins this year. That's why, for me, when I look at the Wild prospects, Charlie Coyle is "One to Watch" in 2012-13.    

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