HARTFORD, Connecticut — Transformation after shift During the Hartford Wolf Pack’s practice at Trinity College on Tuesday, there was one line that kept making things happen.
This was the trio of Will Cowell, Tanner Fritz, and Laurie Pagoniemi.
“We felt that way today,” Coyle said with a smile.
This line helped wake up the sleeping crime. The Wolf Pack struggled for much of October and November, but scored 16 goals in their last four games, and resulted in three wins.
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Fritz is the team’s leading scorer with five points in that period, but it’s Coyle who has attracted the most attention. The 2020 second round pick is the top progressive prospect for the AHL’s New York Rangers and is starting to appear in the segment.
“You can play really well without getting points, but lately I’ve been getting a bit more points and I feel more confident with the puck,” said the 20-year-old winger. “I just make plays and move my feet.”
After scoring just seven points in his first 19 games, Coyle has had five points in his last six games. That includes three goals, which brought his team’s total command to seven.
But his growth goes beyond the slight increase in scoring. The 6-foot-3, 204-pounder has always had a physical presence, but his decision-making and all-around play catch up to his strength.
It’s a day and night difference compared to his previous AHL stint during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.
“In his first year, he was on the ice and didn’t necessarily make mistakes, but he didn’t really make an impact. This year, he’s much better,” said Hartford coach Chris Knoblauch.
“He’s a bit faster, so now he can drive and try to beat a defenseman wide, instead of just throwing the puck. He’s made some nice plays to protect the puck and be able to find his teammate in the slot. So, I think that’s the biggest difference from him from two years ago and even Now, he’s just being able to puck in. A lot of that is down to confidence, but I also think his skill level has increased.”
Cuylle has two main tools that he relies on for goal generation.
One is a powerful left-handed shot and the other is a well-developed skill for tips and redirecting around the net. He needn’t look for help on the latter, which is the specialty of Rangers forward Chris Kreider.
“I always watch his highlights in front of the net and power games,” he said. “He’s clearly one of the best frontrunners in the league, if not the best. So, I try to look at what he’s doing and see how I can emulate him.”
This became Cuylle’s spot on the Wolf Pack’s top power running unit, which he spent time working on during Tuesday’s practice. But while that’s a normal situation for him, finding lanes to unleash slaps or wrist shots with equal power has been more difficult than it was during his 43-goal run last season.
“Obviously it’s much more difficult,” he said. “D is much better and there’s a lot of time and space. The goalkeepers are a lot better too. So, I think using the defensemen as screens and trying to get shots in through is more important. Not just shooting from all over. It’s kind of picking your positions. That was a curve.” My education too.”
The Rangers would be thrilled if Cuylle’s scoring was translated to the next level, but NHL role selection will depend on much more than offense.
The Toronto native glances as a powerful winger who brings physique and a snarl. As a bottom six prospect, he knows he’ll need to be reliable defensively and effective “off the puck.” This includes penalties, which Knobloch and the Hartford coaching staff are increasingly adding to their squad.
“They worked me up kind of slowly,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t doing much. And then as the season went on, we just started watching more and more videos and working it into more and more. Now I definitely think I’m a big part of penalties, which is Wonderful thing “.
NHL call soon?
Cuylle is clearly preparing for an NHL opportunity, but when will it come?
Later in the season is not at all out of the question. But if you read between the lines, there is work to be done to prove he’s ready.
“There are still things Will can improve at, but if he gets called up, I think he could play in the NHL,” Knoblauch said. “It’s for the organization to determine exactly when this is the best opportunity. As for him being here, he’s still getting better and stronger. He’s getting more experience. I don’t think he played at a level where he controlled and got bored.”
Knoblauch compared it to his short tenure coaching Igor Shesterkin, who was so good at the AHL level that the coach recalled thinking, “Okay, he’s done everything he can. It’s time for him to get up there.”
In Cowell’s case, more patience will be required. Knoblauch and the Rangers are both pleased with his progress, but wisely see that there is no need to rush the process.
The player seems to be on the same page — “I talk to coaches a lot and understand their expectations,” he says — and willing to climb the ladder at his own pace, trying to stack one good workout on top of another.
“It’s obviously my dream to play for Rangers. But while you’re here, you want to focus on being here,” he said. “When I’m home, sometimes I watch Rangers games when I’m having a night off or when they’re playing. But when I’m here I focus on winning games for the Wolf Pack and being the best I can be here.”