Charlie Coyle hasn’t kept count, but he offered a rough estimate Sunday of the number of times he has moved between center and wing. “Probably a million,” the Wild forward said. “It’s nothing new.”
Though he’s become accustomed to plugging in wherever the Wild needs him, Coyle’s latest position shift comes at an inopportune time. He has flourished at center for the past six weeks, a stint that ended Friday when the Wild acquired center Victor Rask from Carolina. That bumped Coyle back to wing on a line with Eric Staal and Jordan Greenway for Saturday night’s 2-1 victory over Columbus, a combination that will remain intact for Monday’s game at Vegas.
The move could have been frustrating for Coyle, who believes that staying in one position would help him build consistency in his game. But rejoining linemates he knows well, and focusing on the skills that serve him best at wing, make him optimistic that his recent surge will survive another switch.
“Going back to wing, I think what I do best is getting in there on the forecheck and winning wall battles, and I think that’s going to be big for our line,” said Coyle, who logged three goals and seven assists in 19 games at center. “Me and Greenway have played together on and off, and we know each other pretty well off the ice, which helps. And two years ago, me and Staal played together for a pretty good chunk.
“It’s not going to be too hard of an adjustment. I think we’re going to be really good together. It’s just up to us to make sure we bring it every game.”
Coyle started the season at wing, then moved to center in early December when Mikko Koivu was sidelined briefly because of a knee injury. Most recently, he centered a line with Zach Parise and Luke Kunin, a combination that sparked an outstanding stretch by Coyle in early January.
In a position that makes full use of his mobility and speed, Coyle lifted the Wild with smart, physical play at both ends of the ice. Coach Bruce Boudreau — who admitted he has “probably moved [Coyle] around more than I’d like to” — rewarded him with more ice time.
Boudreau said that for Coyle to be at his best, he has to keep skating. It can be harder to do that on the wing, where the responsibilities are different. But even after the switch, Boudreau is urging Coyle to stay in motion as much as possible to remain effective.
“He’s just got to move,” Boudreau said. “He’s got a big body. When he moves, and he’s bumping into people, good things usually happen. It’s when he’s standing still and not doing much, that’s when he doesn’t look as good as he should.”
Saturday, in the Wild’s last home game until Feb. 2, Rask centered a line with Parise and new winger Pontus Aberg. Boudreau said he liked all of his line combinations in that game and is not inclined to break up any of them, including Coyle’s new trio.
Back at wing, Coyle plans to concentrate on winning battles along the boards, getting into shooting lanes and contributing to the forecheck. He finds it easier to move from center to wing than the other way around, and he knows Staal’s and Greenway’s tendencies well, giving him confidence that it will be a smooth transition.
“I just have to make sure I do the things that make me successful on the wing,” he said. “Move my feet. Just bring that physical presence. I think I can bring a little more on the wing and play hard on the boards, which helps my game and will help my linemates, too.”
• Injured fourth-line center Eric Fehr practiced with the Wild on Sunday and could return to the lineup sooner than anticipated. He will go on the trip to Las Vegas, and Boudreau said “there’s a chance” Fehr could play in one of the Wild’s two remaining games before the All-Star break. The forward was injured in a Jan. 7 victory over Montreal when he struck his head on the top of the boards after a late hit. Fehr has missed seven games.
• The Wild announced that Minneapolis will play host to next year’s edition of Hockey Day Minnesota, with outdoor games held at Parade Stadium.