BRIGHTON, Mass. — It would have been fair to wonder if third line center Charlie Coyle would be able to keep building on the dominant level he was playing at last spring when the Bruins ran it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Coyle will obviously need to keep it up once the regular season gets going, but the 27-year-old Weymouth kid has been pretty awesome thus far in his first training camp as a member of the Boston Bruins. He’s been physically dominant in drills, he’s shown up when his number has been called in the preseason and he gives off hope to the Bruins that their third line is going to be source of strength this season. All of these things will be required if he needs to move up in the lineup with second line center David Krejci now nursing a lower body injury, but Coyle has shown the size, strength, powerful skating speed and 200-foot game that always translates well with the B's.
Coyle subbed in for Patrice Bergeron in Monday night’s preseason home opener vs. the Flyers while centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and the two wingers came away impressed with the big-bodied center.
“He’s a great player. He’s dialed in this year,” said Marchand of Coyle, who was one of Boston’s best in the postseason with nine goals and 16 points in 24 games while his third line constantly won their matchups during the playoffs. “He’s been incredible from the first day of camp until now. He’s been by far the best player [in camp]. He’s just dominating in every area right now. He was fun to play with.
“We have dominant players in the middle with their abilities to control pucks and suck people into the middle, and then distribute wide to open up space. They all have different ways they can do it. [Kuraly] does it with speed. [Coyle] is just so dynamic the way he can cut it back and he’s so fast with some really good hands. [Krejci] slows it down and can dangle through anybody, and [Patrice] Bergeron does a little bit of everything. It’s just dynamic all the way through the middle.”
Only Marchand, Pastrnak and Connor Clifton topped Coyle’s 21:36 of ice time in the home preseason opener vs. Philly, but the big center’s most notable play was going wide left with a missed shot after a perfect Marchand set up to him in the slot. Clearly the offensive finish and ability to make plays will be the ultimate marker for Coyle’s effectiveness, and that’s why his productive postseason was so encouraging. But it was the puck possession, the face-off wins and the steady all-around game that stood out for Coyle and should be a major asset on the third line where the Bruins should be able to exploit mismatches.
For now it’s about figuring out which linemates Coyle will wind up with on the third line to start the season, but it’s also about continuing the good vibes from training camp right on into the regular season.
“It’s nice. But it’s also just preseason. I want to keep building my game,” said Coyle, when apprised of Marchand’s compliments. “Even if it was true, it’s one thing to be the best player now and it’s another one to do it in the middle of the season. If that’s what he thinks, then ‘Thanks, Marchy.’ But I know there’s a lot more ground I can cover to be better for this team.”
One big area to improve is the modest two goals and six points in 21 regular-season games played for the Bruins after joining Boston from Minnesota at the trade deadline. Coyle showed a different comfort level and more impactful style of play during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the early returns in camp show that he might just carry last spring’s upgrades into a massive contract season with free agency around the corner.
The Bruins will certainly have to pay more than the $3.2 million Coyle is currently on the books for, but they’ll gladly do it as long as he can live up to the 20-goal, 50-point player that he can surely be when he’s at his best.
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