VANCOUVER – Hours after Bruce Boudreau voiced frustration with the poor play of right wing Charlie Coyle, the Wild recalled 2014 first-round pick Alex Tuch for perhaps his long-anticipated NHL debut Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Wild had the day off Thursday, so it will be clearer at Friday’s practice whether Tuch might slide into Coyle’s spot on the first line. If that were to occur, Coyle would either drop to the third or fourth line or, worse, be given a loud-and-clear message from a dissatisfied coach with a healthy scratch.
Coyle, once the Wild’s leading goal scorer, has one goal and 10 assists with only 23 shots on goal in the past 17 games (1.35 per game). He was downgraded to the fourth line early in the second period during Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Calgary.
Asked after the game what he does about Coyle, Boudreau said, “I don’t know. I’m at a loss. We’ll figure it out. I’m told he’s gone through this every year. I’ll have a talk with him [Thursday] and see if we can’t get him straightened out.”
Tuch, 20, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 34 games as an Iowa Wild rookie this season. He had a solid training camp, but the Wild wanted to be patient and have him spend at least half the season learning the pro game in Iowa.
“Couldn’t be any more excited about being called up,” Tuch said via text. “I’m happy I get to share the experience with my parents who have done everything for me since the beginning. Still hasn’t set in yet but can’t wait to get to Vancouver.”
He probably would have arrived sooner, but he injured a shoulder, then aggravated it Jan. 7. Tuch returned Jan. 27, played back-to-back games, and scored three goals and had an assist before scoring twice in Monday’s AHL All-Star Game.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Jan. 24, “At some point we have to see where he’s at. He’s a 6-foot-4 guy with skill that’s led our team in all the different metrics in Iowa, whether it’s Corsi, scoring chances or plus-minus.”
Tuch scored 32 goals and 62 points in 77 games in two years at Boston College. The Syracuse, N.Y., native led the Eagles in scoring with 28 points in 2014-15.
“He’s coming along pretty well [in Iowa]. I’m hearing good things about him,” Boudreau said.
As for Coyle, 24, he’s not exactly snakebit. He’s not shooting, not getting himself into positions to shoot and not winning battles around the net or along the boards, which is usually his strong suit. Lately, there has been a trend of Coyle stickhandling the entire offensive zone. Often, it ends with no shot on goal. In Dallas on Jan. 24, Coyle did that as overtime was fading — only this time he fell, giving the Stars a 3-on-0 that made Boudreau turn his head and not even look. The Stars didn’t cash in, however, and the Wild won in a shootout.
In Calgary, after being taken off the top line with Nino Niederreiter and Eric Staal (Staal has one goal and one assist in the past nine games), Coyle at one point centered himself in the slot and fanned on a shot. It highlighted a game in which Coyle had trouble connecting on passes and finished with no shots — the 12th time in 17 games he has had one or no shots.
“I’ve got to produce more, get to my game,” Coyle said after the game. “I’m not getting nearly enough shots. I’ve been in a goal slump before. That’s all it is. I’ve got to get shots, shots on net, get available for shots, and they’ll eventually go in.”
Coyle, who last season at one point scored 11 goals in 18 games before ending the season with no goals in 18 games, said the message from Boudreau throughout his current slump has been simple: “I’ve got to get shots, stuff I already know. He just keeps reiterating it. I’ve got to start doing it.”
Boudreau said he has largely “tried to stay away from him a little bit and let him fight his way out of this, but evidently that can’t happen anymore. I’m going to have to talk to him.”
Boudreau said after Wednesday’s game that it’s difficult on a coach having only 12 forwards on a roster because there’s no pressure on players to perform. Asked if Tuch could be a wake-up call for Coyle — Coyle is two games from tying Antti Laaksonen’s Wild-record ironman streak of 283 consecutive games played, Boudreau said, “Other guys might need to see it, too. Not just him.”