Last year for the Minnesota Wild, Weymouth native Charlie Coyle scored 21 goals, a career high, marking the first time he’d scored more than 20 goals since he played for the South Shore Kings of the EJHL in 2009-10.
This season, after fewer than 30 games, he became the first Wild player to score nine goals. Coyle, a big-body 24-year-old with an obvious scoring knack, has become more dangerous than ever as a pro. But how? We caught up with him to talk about his progress and some of the lessons he’s learned along the way. (A few hints: Go to the net, be ready without the puck, practice shooting from uncomfortable positions, read the play in the “dirty areas” and ... don’t just stand there).
Mass Hockey: What do you feel has changed or evolved in your game to the point where you’re truly a goal-scorer in the National Hockey League?
Charlie Coyle: I think it’s a mix of a lot of things. One, I wasn’t getting nearly enough shots, so that was a thing last year: I wanted to come in and take more shorts. I wanted to get in positions to receive the puck and take those shots. Most of my goals, even this year, come from being at the net – tip-ins, rebounds.
Going to the net is huge. If you’re not scoring, go to the net more. Go to the net, go to the net, go to the net.
And, sometimes, you get lucky with good linemates. But you do have make yourself available to receive those passes and get to good spots for them, or go to the dirty areas. That’s when you’re going to get more of your chances and, eventually, goals.
Mass Hockey: How important is playing without the puck?
Coyle: It’s huge. I mean, it’s the NHL level and most of the guys, if not all the guys, can all play without the puck. To be able to read the play ahead of time, that’s a huge thing. Just being able to see what your linemates are doing and knowing what their tendencies are is huge in knowing what they’ll do with the puck – so you can be there before it’s too late. Or too early.
Sometimes, it’s not about getting there fast, but waiting a little bit and then you shoot through and get that pass.
Mass Hockey: What are the things you’re thinking about in those scoring areas down low like that?
Coyle: It’s all reading. It depends on the play. Sometimes, you want to be close to the D-man, then you see your player moving with the puck and you push off him, take a couple steps out and open up for him – to create that separation to get that shot off from the passing lane.
That’s one of the little tricks. Sometimes, you’re in tight and maybe you kind of pick the defenseman so your guy can come around. But, if you want the puck, you have to get open. You can’t just stand there. When you’re standing still, you’re easier to cover.
Mass Hockey: When you move up from level to level, what are some of the hard lessons you learn quickly?
Coyle: Everyone has his or her strengths. There’s always going to be someone smarter or stronger or faster. You have to figure out what you do well and use it to your advantage. The other parts, you just have to keep working on them. That’s what the summer is for. That’s what practice is for, and you work on those things that you’re not good at, and you work to get better at them – to try to get to where these other guys you think are ahead of you and pass them. That’s the mindset you have.
There’s always more work to do.
There’s a mental side, too, to confidence. Know that you want to be better and you can be a better player, and that positive mindset is going to go a long way. That’s when you see results, become a better player and a better scorer.
Mass Hockey: How much shooting practice do you do now, and how much would you recommend for a youth player near his or her teens?
Coyle: Whatever drills you’re doing, those pretty much involve a shot. I think a huge thing for kids is treat every drill like a game. If you take a shot, 99 percent of kids, even guys in the NHL, will shoot it and go back in line. That’s OK if you score, but, most of the time you’re scoring goals on a rebound. That just gets your mind right. I would do that, maybe not every time, but then I saw Zach Parise doing it. If that guy practices that way, you don’t have to wonder why he gets so many goals. What you’re going to do in practice, you’re going to do in a game.
Treat it like a game. If the rebound comes out, finish it. And I get that some drills aren’t appropriate for that, but you have to get in that mindset.
Or go out early to take some shots. Anything. One-timers, practice getting it off quickly, move around a cone and rip it quick.
You work on that stuff and you’re going to see the separation.
Mass Hockey: Is there a secret to scoring more goals?
Coyle: It’s a lot of things. It’s being in the right areas, making sure you’re available in proper position to receive a pass and put it on net. And, when things are going wrong and you’re getting away from scoring, you go to the net more. You go to the dirty areas. That’s probably where 90 percent of the goals in the NHL are scored, five-to-10 feet.
And you always have to be working on your shooting, too. Never be complacent. You always want to get better. So work on your shot. Work on moving and shooting from uncomfortable areas, and all that stuff will help you score more.