Charlie Coyle’s locker-room stall is situated right next to Zach Parise’s station. This allows the young talent to absorb every detail of what it takes to be a pro like Parise.
But it didn’t take long last season for the Wild’s Parise to realize Coyle is a lot more mature than the average 20-, now 21-year-old.
“He plays the game the right way, but most of all, you can tell he takes care of himself off the ice and does the right things and wants nothing more than to be a top player in this league,” Parise said. “He keeps quiet and just works hard, and those guys make it and those guys have good careers.”
Parise doesn’t want to go as far as to say Coyle is a future NHL star. Not because he doesn’t believe it, but because Parise thinks it’s wrong — much like coach Mike Yeo — to heap too much praise, and thus pressure, on a second-year pro.
“But if Charlie keeps developing the way that he has, I think he’ll have a long, great career,” Parise said. “Even watching him now compared to last year, he’s moving better, he’s shooting better, you can see the extra confidence he has. You can tell that in just half a year last year, he saw what he has to do to get better and then went and worked on it this summer and came back and looks great.”
That’s precisely what Coyle, a self-described gym rat, did. The 2010 San Jose Sharks first-round pick worked out and skated five days a week with NHLers (such as the Rangers’ Brian Boyle), AHLers and up-and-coming prospects such as 16-year-old defenseman Noah Hanifin, whom Coyle is convinced will be a top-five pick in the draft in a few years.
Coyle’s goal this offseason was to get stronger while improving his speed. Mission accomplished, he says. He worked with a skating coach, a personal trainer, stepped into a boxing ring and even took up yoga to improve his flexibility and balance.
Coyle scored three goals in five preseason games and proved to be a 200-foot player, as many coaches like to say.
“I want to be a better player this year and contribute more this year,” Coyle said, more than aware that he and a lot of Wild youngsters will have to pick up the slack of lost veterans Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck.
“That’s when you notice and realize we should be able to play a big role and we have to. In the offseason, it makes you push a little more to get that much better so you can play a good role on this team and be a factor out there.”
Coyle, an East Weymouth, Mass., native, returned home last summer, lived with his parents, ate home-cooked meals, avoided getting grounded and hung out with buddies and cousins.
He got a call from Yeo, who told him to prepare for a potential position change — moving from right wing with Parise and Mikko Koivu to second-line center, where he would replace Cullen.
Coyle wasn’t intimidated. He said it seems every other year in his career he’s switched from wing to center. He played center for the U.S. at world juniors and switched back and forth at Boston University. At Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he was playoff MVP, Coyle played right wing but took faceoffs.
“I think my whole career I’ve done a pretty good job adjusting to any position or any area of the game at any time of the game,” Coyle said. “I just want to be a complete player that does all the little things, and if you do that, the points will come.
Coyle has been working with teammate Zenon Konopka, who has a career .590 faceoff winning percentage (first among active NHLers), on draws. Konopka has given Coyle tips, mostly not to try to “reinvent the wheel” if he loses a couple.
“He’s had a heck of a camp,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “The task now for Charlie and all these young players is to continue to play well as the competition gets tougher. The veteran players play much harder during the regular season than the preseason, so [the kids] have to lift their play as the level of competition goes up.”