DULUTH – Last week in Columbus, Charlie Coyle played center, assisted on three power-play goals and won 75 percent of his faceoffs a game after winning 59 percent of them. His next game against Winnipeg, Coyle played right wing next to Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu, had a goal and an assist and was plus-5.
Asked afterward if he’s a center or right winger, Coyle laughed and said, “I don’t know.”
Such is life for the Wild’s rover.
A fourth-year pro and 2010 San Jose Sharks first-round draft pick, Coyle, 23, has gotten used to bouncing from role to role with the Wild.
At Wednesday’s practice, Coyle was naturally back on the third line but at right wing, not center, because right wingers Justin Fontaine and Jordan Schroeder are injured. Coyle is expected to play on this line, which has Thomas Vanek on the left and Tyler Graovac in the middle, during Thursday’s exhibition finale against the Buffalo Sabres.
“Most successful teams, there’s players on those teams where they bounce from center to wing based on injuries, based on needs,” coach Mike Yeo said. “But they have that ability, and that makes them very useful players. Charlie’s showing he can play on different types on lines, play in different positions.”
And, different special teams.
Wednesday, despite impressing on the power play throughout training camp, Coyle was on the penalty kill. The second power-play unit featured three wingers up front — Niederreiter, Vanek and Jason Zucker — and defensemen Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon at the points. The first unit all camp has been Zach Parise, Koivu, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Suter.
Zucker is the newest addition. He scored 21 goals last season, only one on the power play because he played only 43 minutes on the power play in 51 games.
“It should be great, but I’m not going to take that for granted,” Zucker said. “We have a lot of guys that can be on the power play. I want to make sure I’m using those opportunities to my advantage and capitalizing on them when I can.”
Yeo made clear there will be “good players that will not be on the power play.” But he also wants Coyle, who almost single-handedly killed 20 seconds of a 3-on-5 disadvantage Sunday against Winnipeg, to “sink his teeth” in the penalty kill role and take the responsibilities lost by the Wild letting right-shot center Kyle Brodziak leave for St. Louis via free agency.
This isn’t to say Coyle won’t ever play the power play, but “I think [penalty killing is] probably as big if not bigger for [Coyle’s] development for his role on the team, so we’re really hoping he can become a big part of it,” Yeo said.
Coyle continues to be the good soldier as he embraces every role thrown his direction.
“Whatever a certain line needs, usually I can fill in,” he said. “It’s a good trait to have, to be versatile and just play any position and play it well.
“You want to be the go-to guy in every situation, but we have a lot of guys who can play. I’m just trying to make it tough on the coaches to have that internal competition with other guys, and that’s going to make our team better.”
Coyle leads the NHL with five assists in four games this preseason and is third with six points. Two preseasons ago, he had three goals and an assist in five games. In 70 games two years ago, he scored 12 goals and 30 points, last year 11 goals and 35 points in 82 games.
“Now I have to carry this into the season and start off on the right foot,” Coyle said. “I just want to keep the momentum going, and it’s definitely a start and gives me confidence. I had ups and downs last year and want to be way more consistent, and confidence is my biggest thing. I can’t overthink. I just have to play hockey.”
Coyle has all the tools to be a top-notch power forward. He has yet to put it all together for a full season, though.
“We know what he’s capable of,” Yeo said. “We’ve seen it in spurts. But you’re hoping that he takes a step, that he makes a jump from being a sometimes offensive guy to a threat every night. And he has that ability.”