Today's piece on Charlie Coyle is the eighth in a 10-part series over two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring's Stanley Cup playoff run.
Nobody could have guessed how well Charlie Coyle would have meshed into the Bruins lineup by the time they got to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 27-year-old Coyle was solid during the regular season after getting traded from the Wild to Boston in exchange for prospect Ryan Donato, and he certainly eased the burden on Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci with his two-way play as the third-line center. It's exactly what they weren't getting from Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson before B's management opted to pull the trigger on the 6-foot-3, 218-pound kid from Weymouth.
But the two goals and six points in 21 regular-season games with the Bruins gave no indication as what he'd do in the postseason.
Coyle's power, strength and skating game translated to the physical, grinding postseason style of play and he busted out for nine goals and 16 points in 24 games while proving to be one of Boston's most consistent forwards from beginning to end of the postseason. Both Coyle and Marcus Johansson more than proved their worth as trade deadline acquisitions once the postseason arrived, and now the big center has at least one more season in Boston before both sides have to worry about a contract.
That means Coyle is in Boston's plans for this upcoming season and the debate becomes where best he can help his new team.
Certainly, the Bruins could keep him in the middle on the third line and count on the same consistent, steady play with perhaps a bit more regular-season offense depending on the wingers on either side of him. But the B's could also take advantage of Coyle's versatility and turn him into the top-6 winger with size and strength that they have needed over the last couple of seasons. The Bruins could push Coyle up to the right wing with either David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron, and the addition to the B's top line in particular could be interesting given the power forward dimension he could add to a line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
It might not mean huge offense since Coyle has broken the 20-goal plateau just once in his seven NHL seasons headed into this year, but he's also never played on a line where he'd be set up with offensive opportunities like he could be with No. 37 and No. 63. The Bruins seem open to auditioning Coyle for a winger spot at least in part because they didn't have the cap space to retain Johansson, or to find another top-6 candidate in free agency last month.
Some of it might also be dependent on the development of guys like Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic and Oskar Steen in NHL training camp.
But one thing is certain: The Bruins don't want to bounce Coyle between wing and center once they've formulated a plan.
"I'm interested to see what happens with the center ice position. If somebody pops and can play a third-line role at center then we'd certainly look at Charlie on the wing," said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston. "Bouncing him back and forth I don't think is good for him or good for any linemate. But he had a solid, solid postseason.
"I thought that [third] line was a big reason we had the success we did. But if we have a centerman in the pipeline or even on the roster that could pop and play a third-line role? Then I wouldn't be surprised if Butch doesn't try Charlie out on the wing in a role with Krejci. So we'll see."
Interesting that it seems the Bruins only have Coyle in mind as a right winger for Krejci at this point in time, which indicates they're inclined to stick with the Perfection Line again next season.
Whether it's top-6 right wing or third-line center, the Bruins are going to need a young player to step up and claim that role at the NHL level just as they needed it last season. The good news is that with the presence of Coyle for this upcoming season, one of those positions is going to be filled quite nicely by the former BU standout.
It just remains to be seen where Coyle is going to play and whether he can build on last spring's playoff momentum to realize all of his potential while skating for his hometown Black and Gold.
Key stat: 9 – The number of goals for Charlie Coyle during the B's run to the Stanley Cup Final, which tied him with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for the team lead in 24 postseason games. Coyle had 12 goals in 81 games during the regular season.
Coyle in his own words: "I haven't fully processed being able to play for the Bruins and what just happened."
The biggest question he faces: Where will Coyle play next season? Will he be the driving force as the center on the third line as he was last season in pretty successful fashion? Or will Coyle be the top-6 winger upgrade that Cam Neely talked about at his final press conference of the season following the Stanley Cup Final loss? All of that remains to be seen.
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