This wasn’t the first time Wild forward Charlie Coyle had skated with teammates since breaking his leg last month.
But what was different was Coyle wearing a game jersey and carving circles into the ice just minutes before puck drop Monday, the last bit of prep before he made his return to game action.
“You always want to help,” Coyle said. “So just to be out there and be with the guys again, even practicing, it’s a good feeling.”
Coyle was back in the Wild lineup against the Devils at Xcel Energy Center after missing 16 games to recover from a right fibula fracture suffered Oct. 12 against the Blackhawks when he was hit with a shot from teammate Jared Spurgeon.
After undergoing surgery the next day, Coyle’s return was pegged at six to eight weeks. Six weeks from surgery is Friday, but coach Bruce Boudreau said Coyle had been healing quickly.
And although Boudreau didn’t confirm Coyle would be back on the ice Monday after the team’s morning skate, he did make it clear Coyle would play at some point this week — an addition that gives the team a versatile and dependable injection of size and skill at the start of a busy week, with Monday’s tilt the first of four in six days for the Wild.
Before getting hurt, Coyle had collected two assists in three games and had strung together a franchise-best ironman streak of 316 straight games played. Last season, he racked up a career-high 56 points. Only 18 of those counted as goals, but he began the season with the expectation he’d start to shoot more.
“He’s big,” Boudreau said. “He’s 6-3, 220 pounds, and he can skate and he can make a play. All of those things you add up and it equals a good hockey player.”
The 25-year-old skated with his teammates for the first time a week ago after getting on the ice by himself a few times previously. He also skated Sunday, even though the team didn’t, and Tuesday is supposed to be his first practice with the group.
Rather than the number of on-ice sessions, Coyle had been focusing on how he felt to gauge when he’d be ready for a return.
“Just making sure my timing and all that, just the skills,” he said. “It’s one thing to focus on getting your legs prepared and all of that, but hands, too, are such a big thing. You come back and you have your legs, and all of a sudden you can’t catch passes. You can’t make three-foot passes. It’s crazy how you can lose that real quick, so that’s going to be huge.”
In addition to activating Coyle from long-term injured reserve, the Wild shifted winger Zach Parise to long-term injured reserve. Parise remains sidelined since undergoing back surgery last month.
Coyle skated on the right side next to winger Tyler Ennis and center Matt Cullen on the fourth line against the Devils, as winger Chris Stewart was scratched — his first absence of the season after going goalless in his previous 13 games.
Defenseman Mike Reilly was also scratched with Gustav Olofsson back on the third pairing next to Kyle Quincey.