Coyle poised to make major impact with Wild

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 18, 2012 - 11:18 PM

One of the franchise's top prospects showed off his varied talents Sunday in a game at Xcel Energy Center.

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The Houston Aeros’ Charlie Coyle worked in the defensive end Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center in an American Hockey League game against the Rockford Icehogs. Coyle, acquired from San Jose in the Brent Burns trade, has the type of all-around game that could have him in a Wild uniform soon after the NHL lockout ends.

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He's a prototypical power forward, one with exceptional hands, a big frame and the strength to play in the NHL now.

Charlie Coyle's toolbox is overflowing, but that's obvious for the most casual Wild fan to recognize. John Torchetti, a veteran coach at every level, looks at his Houston Aeros' first-line right winger with the meticulous lens of a coach.

"He's going to make an impact on the Wild for two reasons: He's no-maintenance, high-character and he is so good, so willing defensively," Torchetti said.

Don't get Torchetti wrong: He loves Coyle's terrific skating, eagerness to go to the dirty areas, great release and, of course, the fact that he looks like a future top scorer.

But Torchetti doesn't think you can play in today's NHL without the defensive component, and Coyle "has been our most consistent, complete forward night in and night out since the start of the year."

That's quite the compliment for Coyle, who is making the jump from Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. After leaving Boston University last winter, Coyle scored 15 goals and 38 points in 23 games for Saint John before leading the team to a championship with 34 points in 17 games. He was named playoff MVP.

In 16 games for the Aeros, Coyle leads with seven goals and is tied for the team lead with 13 points. He helped set up the first of Johan Larsson's two goals in a 3-2 victory over Rockford on Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 11,175 hockey-starved Wild fans at Xcel Energy Center.

Coyle is showing why Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said in June 2011 that the trade that sent Brent Burns to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Coyle and a first-round-pick (became Zack Phillips) wouldn't have happened unless the Sharks parted with Coyle.

And he is showing why Wild coach Mike Yeo and Aeros GM Jim Mill say Coyle has an extraordinary chance of making the Wild immediately if the lockout ends.

"He's adapted to the pro game so quickly," Mill said.

Added Jason Zucker, Coyle's linemate who also has 13 points: "He does some stuff that you shake your head at. He does some stuff that I don't know how he does it, but he does and it works."

Coyle is not the only blue-chip prospect under Torchetti's tutelage in Houston. Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin were outstanding before getting injured eight games ago. And then there are Zucker, Larsson, Brett Bulmer and Phillips.

"Everyone wants to see the NHL, but if we can come together here [during the lockout], that's the next-best thing," Coyle said. "We're growing together and building a foundation [for the Wild]."

As for the other prospects:

• After getting a two-assist, six-game look for the Wild last spring, Zucker has been solid and said, "I'm trying to develop every aspect of my game right now."

• The ultra-competitive Larsson, who captained Sweden to a gold medal at the last world junior championships, has taken Granlund's spot on the top line. Said Zucker, "It's not hard to play with Johan Larsson."

• Bulmer got a three-assist, nine-game look to start last season with Minnesota before being returned to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League, where he scored 62 points in 53 games. He got off to a difficult start with the Aeros, but Torchetti said, "He's turned the corner. He fought through it, and that's all part of growing up and maturing as player."

• Phillips, who scored 80 points in 60 games for Saint John, has gotten off to a tough start. He has five points in 14 games and is minus-7. Said Torchetti: "Phillips should be taking advantage of this ice time because Granlund's gone. He's got to buy in and make sure he plays better defensively."

Two overshadowed players Torchetti believes are future NHLers are Justin Fontaine and David McIntyre.

"These guys take pride in being strong, two-way hockey players," Torchetti said. "The guys who play two-way hockey end up playing in the NHL quicker. The guys that don't end up in the minors a few extra years asking why."

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