NHL player development seems to always result in more questions than answers. How likely is it for a top pick to pan out? What makes a player a “steal”? Last Word On Hockey will be starting a new series on how to properly develop prospects from all different spots throughout the draft. This week’s piece involves draft picks in the back half of the first round and how they were used early in their careers.
NHL Player Development of First-Round Picks
In the span of 2005 through 2015, there were 84 total selections made between 16th overall and 30th overall on forwards playing in North America. Looking at all 84 forwards, they were split into different categories. Those categories were “Forwards Deemed NHL-Ready and Brought In Immediately When Ready,” “Forwards Near NHL-Ready and Brought In Immediately When Near-Ready,” “Forwards Rushed Slightly,” “Forwards Rushed,” “Forwards Forced,” “A Little Patience,” “Patience,” and “Too Much Patience.”
There were 10 forwards who fell into the fifth category, “a little patience,” on the list. Of those 10 players, one made their NHL impact in their DY+3 season. That player was Charlie Coyle.
In this piece, we will be using stats from Elite Prospects (raw stats) and Hockey Reference (ice time). Additionally, the analytics we are using are as follows: even-strength offence goals above replacement (EVO), even-strength defence goals above replacement (EVD), wins above replacement (WAR) and goals above replacement (GAR). Those analytics are from Evolving-Hockey (subscription required).
NHL Player Development of Charlie Coyle
Charlie Coyle, drafted 28th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft by the San Jose Sharks, came out of the EJHL’s South Shore Kings organization. In his DY-1 season, however, he played prep school hockey with Thayer Academy. There, he scored 20 goals and 28 assists for 48 points in 26 games, for 1.846 points per game. That ranked ninth among the aforementioned 84 forwards in DY-1 production. Joining the EJHL’s Kings, he scored 21 goals and 42 assists for 63 points in 42 games, for 1.5 points per game. That ranked 12th among those same forwards in DY production. After getting drafted, Coyle would play one season in the NCAA, and split another season between the NCAA and QMJHL.
In his first NCAA season with Boston University, Coyle scored seven goals and 19 assists for 26 points in 37 games, for 0.703 points per game. That ranked 66th out of the 82 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+1 production. In his second season, Coyle would play 16 NCAA games with 14 points before abandoning that route and joining the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. There, he scored 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points in 23 games, for 1.652 points per game. That ranked fifth out of the 70 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+2 production. Coyle would get his NHL shot the following season.
How Coyle Was Used
In his first professional season, Coyle would split between the AHL and NHL. At the AHL level, he scored 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points in 47 games with the Houston Aeros, the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate. Coyle was traded there before even suiting up for the Sharks, who drafted him. Given a shot at the NHL for 37 games with Minnesota, he would average a solid role of 15:04 per game. In that role, he scored eight goals and six assists for 14 points. Analytically, he was strong as well. While his EVO (0.2) left a lot to be desired, his EVD (1.4) was very impressive. That defensive efficiency led his WAR (0.4) and GAR (2.4) to be strong. There was a clear potential for a strong forward in the future with those metrics.
In his second season, Coyle would play exclusively in the NHL. Playing 70 games, he averaged 17:05 per game, a very large role for a second-year player. In that role, he scored 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points. His offence was lacking, considering his role and how many games he played. Despite that, his EVO (1.9) actually improved, as did his EVD (1.7). With the improved all-around even-strength metrics, his WAR (0.7) and GAR (3.5) also took small steps up from his rookie year.
Charlie Coyle Finds Role In Year Three
Coyle would see himself remaining exclusively with the NHL yet again in his third professional season, this time playing a full 82-game season. However, his role dropped to 14:33, dropping below his rookie-year average. But that proved to be a good move. Coyle scored 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points, a new career-high. Analytically, it was arguably his best season of the three as well. His EVO (9.4) was very strong, a completely different score than he has produced to this point. However, his EVD (0.2) would take the fall for it, though he still maintained an above-replacement level score there. With the improved offensive metrics, his WAR (2.0) and GAR (10.7) were both very good, and much, much better than the previous two seasons.
Since that third year, in 2014-15, Coyle played three and a half more seasons with the Wild. In that span, he played 290 games, scoring 60 goals and 103 assists for 163 points. In his last season with the Wild, 2018-19, he wound up getting dealt away to the Boston Bruins, where he remains to this day. Since joining the Bruins, he has scored 43 goals and 65 assists for 108 points across 233 games. He has become a very strong middle-six forward. It is all (mostly) thanks to his NHL player development path in Minnesota. Usually, playing less than 15 minutes tends to get criticized in these pieces more often than not. However, he struggled in a bigger role and truly found his place within the middle six of a lineup. Neither the Wild nor the Bruins are upset about how the former first-rounder wound up in his career.
Junior league stats via Elite Prospects, NHL stats via Hockey Reference, NHL analytics via Evolving Hockey
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