Back on December 6th, the Minnesota Wild traveled to Calgary only to be shut out 2-0. Flames winger, Elias Lindholm, scored twice from the right circle, cleanly beating Wild backup goaltender, Alex Stalock. Shutout losses are always disappointing. However the main concern exiting the game was not the team’s on ice performance but the health of captain, Mikko Koivu.
During the third period, Koivu and Mark Giordano collided, resulting in a scary knee-on-knee hit. Koivu exited the game with a lower body injury (which was later revealed to be a sprained MCL) and did not return. The league suspended Giordano for two games and Koivu ended up missing four games in mid-December.
With Koivu hurt, the Minnesota Wild called up Luke Kunin from the Iowa Wild and Charlie Coyle moved from right wing to center. Both moves have made the Wild forward group a little more interesting.
The San Jose Sharks drafted Coyle 28th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He ended up on the Wild after being dealt as a part of the Brent Burns trade in 2012. He has played most of his NHL career on the wing after spending college and juniors playing center. His prior experience with the position made him the perfect option to step up and take over Koivu’s minutes during his absence absence.
Since moving to center on December 6th, Coyle has had 9 points in 14 games. He only had 12 during the 29 games played prior to the switch. Coyle’s increased production has been a much-needed return to form and has been an exciting part of a mediocre season for the Wild. (Granted, I do like to call the Wild “walking mediocrity”.) The last two seasons have been somewhat of a disappointment for Coyle following a promising 2016-2017 campaign in which he played all 82 games and scored 18 goals, 38 assists for a total of 56 points. After only three games in the 2017-2018 season, the Wild placed Coyle on IR after he had suffered a broken leg during a game against Chicago. He returned to lineup in late November, but had a lackluster season that did not match the excitement surrounding him after the previous year. Along with last season’s disappointment and a slow start to this season, talk of trading the 26-year-old forward began to circulate Wild media.
Luckily, Mikko Koivu came back into the lineup on December 18th in a game against the Sharks. Coyle remained at center and the Parise-Coyle-Kunin line was born.
The Parise-Coyle-Kunin line has been an exciting addition to Minnesota’s lineup. They have been able to sustain offensive pressure and have become Boudreau’s go to line over the past few games. As a fan it has been fun to see new lines and new faces on the team this year. There is the ongoing joke about Minnesota being old, but the team actually has two rookies‒Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin‒on the roster this season.
Initially, Kunin was not placed on Coyle’s right side after being called up from the Iowa Wild. He had 15 points in 21 games in the AHL, but had yet to prove himself at the NHL level after having limited success with the team last season. Naturally, he was slotted lower in the lineup with Nino Niederreiter taking the spot next to Coyle. It was good. Nothing spectacular, but good. Koivu’s return, Kunin being moved to play with Parise and Coyle, and the creation of a three line deep forward group, have made the Wild more interesting and dangerous offensively.
For me, Kunin has been an intriguing player to watch over the past month. He only has 4 points since being called up, but they have all come at even strength whilst playing with Parise and Coyle. He did fight Roman Polak in his second game with Minnesota which was personally unexpected, but it did introduce his name to casual Wild fans. I look forward to watching more of his play to better understand his possible future impact with the team, but it is promising to see young players entering the lineup this season.
Coyle’s success at center this year has helped Minnesota’s offensive attack at even strength. The lineup changes have opened up the ice for Zach Parise, who is having his best season since 2014-2015. His time spent on Coyle’s left wing have been especially impressive; he has 15 points within 14 games. Typically, Parise has been more of a power play threat but 13 of his points since joining up with Coyle have been at even strength. Minnesota’s power play has been struggling without defenseman Matt Dumba (he is expected to miss three months after tearing his right pectoralis) so it is especially important for Parise to perform well at even strength.
In a way, Koivu’s injury was a blessing in disguise; Coyle’s emergence as a viable option at center and Kunin becoming a mainstay in the lineup have bolstered Minnesota’s forward group. Coach Bruce Boudreau has been able to create a balanced lineup with scoring threats on the top three lines, something I never thought I would be able to say about the Wild.
In the past, the team’s strength has been its defensive depth, which Matt Dumba’s absence decreases significantly. It is critical for players to step up and play in adjusted roles if the Wild are going to make the playoffs this season. That is why the Parise-Coyle-Kunin line is valuable for the short term future of the Minnesota Wild. Currently, Minnesota holds the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference with 45 points and they are 5 points behind the Dallas Stars for a divisional playoff spot.
Although I am currently trying to forget about the matchup against the Boston Bruins last night, the games since Koivu’s return have been exciting even though not all games gone spectacularly. The new found forward depth has turned the Wild into a more offensive threat. If the team can hold onto a playoff spot and get Matt Dumba back by April, it will be fun to see what the improved Minnesota Wild are able to do in the postseason.