What Charlie Coyle's Return Means for Minnesota

After six weeks on the shelf, the Wild center is sure to shake things up.

For all of his postseason struggles, Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau clearly knows what he’s doing behind an NHL bench. Whether he was putting Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, or now Zach Parise (when healthy, of course) onto the ice, his teams have only missed the playoffs once in his career. And while the Wild haven’t exactly been lighting the league on fire, the return of Charlie Coyle should boost everyone’s spirits in the State of Hockey.

The 25-year-old center broke his fibula in Chicago on October 10th and was slated to be out for six-to-eight weeks. He was able to return to action on Monday night against the New Jersey Devils, a day short of the six-week target. Even though he is yet to fully practice with the team, he’s now a player to keep an eye on both from a fan’s and a daily fantasy player’s perspective.

The most immediate effect of his return is that Boudreau now has more latitude to mix and match his forward groups. Offensive production from those players have been a key component in the Wild’s struggles. Only four forwards have double-digit points this season; only one of them, Jason Zucker, has more than 10 goals. There simply haven’t been enough bodies to change the lineup frequently.

Chris Stewart was the scratch in Coyle’s first game back, but that could change going forward. After the game against the Devils, Boudreau mentioned that he could have benched “four or five guys," but Stewart “drew the short straw in [his] mind.” Regardless of who finds themselves in the press box, however, it's clear the coach will have a much shorter leash on his forwards from now on.

As for Coyle himself, the center will immediately get plenty of chances to remind the coaching staff what he can do. He started Monday’s contest with Matt Cullen and Tyler Ennis, but also saw some time with Eric Staal and Zucker before the end of the game. He also took some power play shifts -- last season he tallied 9 points on the man-advantage.

While he will likely get plenty of opportunities going forward, it’s also worth remembering that he’s a capable player in his own right.

Since his debut in the 2012-13 season, Coyle has been a 49.78% five-on-five Corsi player, according to Corsica. His other key stats are similar, too -- his career five-on-five goals for percentage is 52.03% and his five-on-five expected goals percentage is 52.95%. Given his power play usage, it’s also worth noting that he’s a career +37 in individual penalty differential.

While it will likely take Coyle a little while to get back into game shape, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him pick up where he left off from last season’s 56 point (18-goal, 36-assist) total. Although almost all of his rate stats increased, his shooting percentage dropped to a completely replicable 8.4%. Coyle has shown plenty of strong moments during his career, but after six NHL seasons, he should be showing some consistency. Last season was strong, but duplicating it after a broken leg will be a test.

Whether you’re a fan of the Wild or just a fantasy hockey player, Coyle’s return is something of which to take note. Not only will he immediately be put into a situation with plenty of chances to produce, but he will shake up the Minnesota forward lines and power play groups. Stewart has already been a healthy scratch and it's possible someone like Zucker could find himself in the press box soon.

And whether you’re Coyle or the Wild, it’ll be hard to go anywhere but up.