When general manager Don Sweeney brought up the idea that Charlie Coyle, a Bruins trade pick up from Minnesota days before the NHL trade deadline last February, could be looked at as an offseason addition because he wasn’t a rental, he may have elicited an eyeroll or two.
But when you dig into the Bruins’ roster and then look at what the Bruins did in free agency on Monday, you see where Coyle could be totally different player in 2019-20, and could be the key to a major shakeup of Boston's line combinations.
“Charlie Coyle, you can look at it as an acquisition for us for next year and possibly going forward,” Sweeney said Monday.
Previously on June 17, Sweeney said:
“Does Charlie Coyle move up to the right side? Again, putting Charlie in a consistent spot is when I think he plays his best hockey. He referenced that when he was in Minnesota in a production role. He could slot up and play right wing if another player emerged from within.”
The reason the Bruins were willing to part with a prospect the caliber of Ryan Donato in a trade for Coyle was that the Weymouth native was signed through the end of the 2019-20 season at a reasonable $3.2 million. He settled into the job of third-line center because that’s what last season’s roster called for, and with injuries to Marcus Johansson and David Pastrnak down the stretch coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t have time to try out other combinations before the Stanley Cup playoffs began.
But with the way the Bruins roster looks now, they can better put his skill set to use as a top-six wing this fall. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound forward be the burly power forward the Bruins might like to unite with David Krejci. Or maybe if Cassidy is finally inclined to force the Krejci-Pastrnak combination together, Coyle could bring a different dimension to the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron pair with more of a puck-protection, cycling game, and a net-front presence. Considering how much sense it makes to give Krejci and Pastrnak every opportunity to forge a bond, Coyle’s best bet would be playing with Marchand and Bergeron and making that line one of the better 200-foot trios in the league.
Coyle was a first-round pick of San Jose in 2010 for a reason. The Bruins may just be starting to scratch the surface of his skill level and ability to score. The knock on him was that he didn’t shoot enough, but in a Bruins sweater in the regular season he averaged two shots per game for the first time in his NHL career. It didn’t take long for him to get comfortable playing his game in front of his hometown fans, and then he showed what the Bruins might be able to look forward to production-wise in the postseason with 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 24 games.
One can’t underestimate the role a consistent position and consistent linemates played in making Coyle such a productive addition after a couple down years in Minnesota, where he topped out at 21 goals in 2015-16 and 56 points in 2016-17. There he switched between center and wing a lot, rarely got the type of power-play time he maybe should have considering his skill set. Other forwards that have come and gone from the Wild have similarly benefited from a change of scenery – Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Alex Tuch, to name a few. Many observers felt that Coyle should’ve been given a bigger role with the Wild.
But Minnesota’s loss was Boston’s gain. Now the Bruins have a chance to find a spot for him, and if he works out as a top-six wing that could at least make them a two-line team for the regular season. Considering how much success they’ve had the past couple seasons as a one-line team for stretches, that could be all they need to be. Especially if Marcus Johansson doesn’t return to the Bruins, there might not be enough talent on the wing to bring out the best in Coyle as a center.
There might be some value in learning if Coyle can be the heir apparent to Krejci as a top-six center, but if Coyle continues to fit well and then signs an extension beyond 2020, the Bruins would have another year to figure that out before Krejci’s contract is up in 2021.
As it stands now, Sweeney is looking at a batch of players that might be able to fill out his bottom six, starting with Sean Kuraly, who could move up into Coyle’s old third-line center spot. Kuraly’s lines were usually used as third, or sometimes second, lines last year anyway. Then there’s Danton Heinen, Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner, Karson Kuhlman, Peter Cehlarik, Zach Senyshyn, Paul Carey, and the newly signed Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie. Prospects Trent Frederic, Oskar Steen and Jack Studnicka are going to get long looks in training camp. David Backes might still be around.
One could easily imagine an opening-night lineup like this:
Whether the bottom six would be capable of contributing in the playoffs the way it did in 2019 would remain to be seen. The Bruins certainly have enough options to mix and match until the they find the right combinations or run out of players.
One area they can’t afford to keep having so much turnover is in their top six. That’s where Coyle can solve Boston’s biggest problem. We saw a lot of great stuff from him after his Boston return, but we might not have seen him hit high point just yet. And if he hits that high point while playing wing in the top six, with a couple of the best linemates he’s ever had in the NHL, regardless of which of the top two lines he’s on, he’ll fill the Bruins’ biggest need and keep them among the top contenders in the NHL.
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