The trajectory of both 21-year-old second-year players stood in stark contrast. Coyle, the No. 28 pick in the 2010 draft, arrived via trade with the San Jose Sharks. Granlund was drafted at No. 9 in that same year and was projected to have a big rookie season as the pressure of his debut was alleviated by the signing of free agents Ryan Suter and Parise in the offseason. Coyle wore No. 63; Granlund wore No. 64. Coyle spent most of the year on the top line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise; Granlund spent significant time in the minors.
Coyle is wearing No. 3 this season; Granlund is still wearing No. 64.
After Jason Pominville got a five-year extension at the beginning of the year, Minnesota's top line appeared to be set in stone: Parise-Koivu-Pominville. It would be two former captains and the current team captain (Koivu) setting the tone for the rest of the club.
Nino Niederreiter, the No. 5 selection in 2010, was acquired via trade with the New York Islanders and was projected to take the departed Devin Setoguchi's spot on the second line and the second forward slot would either go to the deteriorating veteran Dany Heatley, up-and-coming Jason Zucker, or camp surprise Justin Fontaine.
Instead, Coyle got hurt and Pominville found chemistry with Granlund on the second line, and Niederreiter appears to be a perfect compliment as the second winger.
It makes little sense to put Coyle on a grinder line -- he's supremely talented and Kyle Brodziak and Zenon Konopka are prototypical third and fourth line centers, respectively -- so head coach Mike Yeo did the logical thing and put Coyle back with Parise and Koivu.
For the first few games of the season, Yeo was constantly switching lines, trying to find a combination that would generate scoring. Game after game the Wild outshot their opponents, only to see one or two goals on the scoreboard. Yeo created a breakthrough by putting Pominville and Granlund together, complimenting them with Niederreiter, and then using Coyle as a winger.
While it's not illogical to think that Coyle would be at his best playing his natural position on the second line, the team is better off with him on Koivu's wing. Not only is he playing with an elite playmaker, as well as one of the league's best two-way forwards in Parise, but it also allows Koivu to be more aggressive in the faceoff circle because he knows that Coyle can take a draw if he is tossed out.
Barring injury, Yeo should avoid making any more changes to the line combinations. The Pominville-Granlund connection appeared to come out of nowhere, but it's working, and it's nice having an older player that was a captain in Buffalo guiding Granny and Nino -- two younger players that have underperformed up until this season.
On the other hand, Coyle gets to experience playing against the best players on each team every night without being forced to be the go-to scorer. At the same time, he can take the load off of Parise's shoulders by being another scoring option for Koivu to pass to.
After seeing the Wild use myriad line combinations to begin the season, it's time to keep things together and allow the players to get used to playing with one another. For the most part, the best veterans on the teams are locked up and the youth are on rookie contracts. This is a core that should be together for the next few years and it would be wise to have each line build chemistry as soon as possible.
Coyle may not be the second line center, as he was projected to be coming out of camp, but both for the player and the team as a whole, that is a good thing.
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- Ice Hockey
- Charlie Coyle
- Zach Parise
- Mikko Koivu
- Mikael Granlund
- Minnesota Wild