63Austin Czarnik
Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

What expectations should we have for Austin Czarnik?

When the Flames signed Austin Czarnik, they reportedly beat out roughly two-thirds of the league in order to acquire his services. Signed for just two years with an annual average value of $1.25 million, it isn’t a particularly glamorous deal, and yet they got him.

One reason? He’s a right-shot centre who can play the wing, and with the Flames’ dismal lack of right shots, he has an easier path to the NHL – fewer guys he has to be better than. This was a factor that helped the Flames land Spencer Foo a year ago, with a key difference: Czarnik already had three years’ worth of pro experience, including NHL time. Being a known commodity helps.

At 25, he doesn’t just fit in with the Flames positionally; he fits their age group, as well. He’s a little older than their other prominent names – a few months older than Johnny Gaudreau, but a few years younger than Mikael Backlund – and though it would be hard to define him as a prospect at this stage of his career, there’s definitely still potential for more within him, especially if he gets the chance the Flames seem to be willing to give him.

Situational scoring

There’s potential for points: with 69 points in 64 games he was third in AHL scoring in 2017-18, younger than the two guys ahead of him who already appear to have flamed out of an NHL spot. Czarnik’s 1.08 points per game was second amongst AHLers who spent most of their season in the league, beaten only by Chris Terry, who was one of the two with more raw points.

Not just that, but there’s been interest expressed in using him in all situations, with a potential spot on the powerplay (remember, he’s a right shot!) available, and praise for his penalty killing abilities, as well (most of the Flames’ penalty killers are returning, but for Matt Stajan, fourth in forward kill time; and Garnet Hathaway, who was sixth, and could find himself pushed out of the lineup all together due to added depth).

Czarnik might need powerplay time to put up offensive totals, though, if this past AHL season was any indication. Just 37 of his points – 54% of his offence – came at 5v5, tied for 13th in the league. The 31 points he scored on the powerplay were among the most in the AHL (29 at a standard 5v4 was tied for second most; he also picked up two points at 4v3).

To speak to that penalty killing, though, Czarnik did pick up one shorthanded assist in the AHL this past season.

Comparables

Via Christian Tiberi and his consistently helpful database, we can pull up a set of AHL forwards who scored over a point per game in their 24-year-old seasons – and then went on to play at least 20 NHL games the following season.

The names are not particularly familiar to the casual fan:

  • Kris Beech
  • David Desharnais
  • Andrew Gordon
  • Mark Mancari
  • Rich Peverley
  • Colton Sceviour
  • Jordan Weal
  • Brad Winchester
  • Mike Zigomanis

Plus another 14 forwards who scored over a point per game in the AHL, but failed to really play in the NHL in any meaningful circumstances the following season.

Gordon and Mancari failed to have much in the way of NHL careers. Beech, Winchester, and Zigomanis all got about a couple hundred games in each, but failed to do much in the way of actual scoring.

Weal, 26, is still something of a work in progress, finding his footing in the big league but proving useful in some capacity. Sceviour, 29, has carved out a spot as a consistent 20-point scorer.

Peverley may have been out of the league for several years now, but he had a number of great seasons; Desharnais found a fair bit of success in Montreal. They may be the best case scenario for Czarnik’s presumptive NHL career.

NHL situations

Czarnik only played 10 games in the NHL in 2017-18, but dressed for 49 in 2016-17. Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract defined him then as a “sheltered forward”, with a low quality of opponent (he wasn’t being sent out to deal with the opposition’s big guns, like Patrice Bergeron or Backlund would be) and a 58.58% offensive zone start.

Czarnik did have a positive corsi rating of 54.44%, but it’s worth remembering the Bruins have generally been a strong team in that area. Relatively, he was a -1.37 – certainly not a dealbreaker, but underwhelming, even if the data is over a year old.

With the Flames, though, one would expect him to remain in that “sheltered forward” situation.

Depth chart

The Flames have plenty of options at centre before Czarnik’s name comes up: Sean Monahan, Backlund, Mark Jankowski, Derek Ryan, Elias Lindholm, Sam Bennett, and Curtis Lazar. Of that group, Lazar is the only one Czarnik could probably realistically usurp (say what you will about Bennett and how he may permanently be a winger now, but he’s still shown more at the NHL level at a younger age, and isn’t devoid of potential just yet).

That turns attention to the right wing, a position the Flames have been pretty desperate in since Jarome Iginla left. There’s James Neal, Michael Frolik, Lindholm, Troy Brouwer, Garnet Hathaway, and Spencer Foo. Those first three aren’t going to be overtaken any time soon, but after them, it’s wide open.

Czarnik is clearly exciting at the AHL level, and has some further potential to be explored, but it’s best to keep in mind as we wait for training camp that he relied on the powerplay a fair bit to score, and was sheltered in the NHL. To that end, he should still have to work hard in training camp, because he isn’t a player who should be guaranteed a spot; he isn’t as can’t miss as Ryan, who was signed the same day, is.

But on a relatively cheap two-year deal for an overlooked player who can clearly perform at a high level of hockey? He’s a low risk, high reward kind of guy, and you can’t really go wrong with that.


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    • BendingCorners

      Mango has zero points in 88 minutes in the NHL, against the other teams’ weakest players. If he produces on his next call-up then he could eventually force his way into the top nine, but he may simply be an excellent AHL player. I hope he gets a chance and produces, but right now, he looks like “first call-up” not a Flames regular.

      • The Doctor

        Yes, honestly I like Mangiapane, have nothing against him at all, but in his games up with the Flames last year he did not impress. His lack of size and particularly strength clearly hurt him, as he got outmuscled for pucks repeatedly. He badly needs to work on strength conditioning, so he can become like a Marty St Louis.

  • FL🔥MES

    It’s surpring to me that there was reportedly so much interest from other teams in a ‘bubble’ player who hasn’t proven much at the NHL level. Hopefully the amount of interest in him indicates that there is more to him than he has shown so far. If he can, indeed, score on the PP he could put up some nice numbers while playing a more sheltered role at 5v5.

    • The Beej

      Everyone is looking for the next Marchessault. That is why there was so much interest in Czarnik.

      You may not remember but a few years ago before Marchessault was signed by Florida and subsequently broke out he was relatively unkown and hadnt done much at the NHL level except post some promising analytics.

      Now everyone is looking for that diamond in the rough.

      • Baalzamon

        Yeah Czarnik is cool.

        Don’t get me wrong, I know I bring up Mangiapane a lot when Czarnik is the topic, but it just makes me wonder. The Flames are really high on Czarnik; all indications are they should be higher on Mangiapane. But are they?

        • Brian McGrattan's Salute

          Baalzamon:
          Mangiapane is younger, and could do with another year or half year in the AHL without damaging his development, especially with his injury recovery. The Czar isn’t that young anymore, and is at a more critical ment in his career. Mangiapane knows he has a good shot at the team. Perhaps this is the discrepancy you’re mentioning.

          Lets hope nonetheless Mangiapane blows the doors off

          • Baalzamon

            I mean… You’re kidding right?

            In case you’re not: Mangiapane is four years younger, scored at a better rate in the same league, and is far less reliant on the powerplay to produce offense.

    • oilcanboyd

      Could be that most GMs are after relatively bargain deals to fill out their roster and keeping cap space for bigger fish. He chose the Flames because Flames Mgt (Tre and Connie) went to see him in person; the only team to do that. So he felt that the Flames interest was genuine. Could be also the Flames RWs not exactly top drawer and would be easier to crack the Flames lineup

  • BendingCorners

    Czarnik is probably the #13 forward, unless Foo stumbles. If Treliving signs another depth option like Nick Shore or Derek Grant then Czarnik could fall to #14. It was a good signing but not overly exciting.

  • Off the wall

    Read this on Twitter a week ago;

    Anonymous donor:
    “Troy Brouwer told me he had a great day riding the horse Ernie in the Stampede Parade this morning. (July 6)

    Unfortunately Ernie didn’t feel the same as his CF% dropped to a ghastly 34.2% while riding with Brouwer.

  • Just.Visiting

    Interesting to see how he does. I’m not keen, though, on gifting him a spot in the lineup or on special teams. In other words, I don’t think we want to see a repeat of Lazar’s gift of a spot last season.

  • FL🔥MES

    I’m not sure that Ryan and Czarnik should play on the same line together. Ryan has a good face off percentage but was shielded with high offensive zone starts by BP.

    I’m having one of those moments where I’m questioning the upside of Ryan over Shore. Shore seemed like a safer, less expensive, option for a bottom line role. Guess we’ll find out soon enough…

    • The Real SlimBrodie

      How does Brouwer demanding a trade help. Other teams have to have interest in said player for a trade to happen. The best scenario is that brouwer improves enough to stick around until deadline, then we decide based on where we are in the standings. Maybe brouwer will bring another level in the playoffs again.

    • everton fc

      We all would. But I think Byron was on the cusp of breaking out. I don’t see massive evidence (yet) that Czarnik is. Yet, BT and Peters seem to have him inked into the roster.

    • dewtel

      Brouwer removal – Trade a Pack, Jack (Option 1)
      Trade Brouwer with redundant RFA depth & recoup 2019 drafts
      Trade 2 of these 4 (Lazar/Shinkaruk/Pollock/Hathaway) plus Brouwer for 2019 2nd and either 5 or 6 or 7 (depending on retention)
      Likely to retain $1.5 per yer Brouwer.
      Two teams that come to mind that might have interest because they have cap space, extra draft picks and need controllable RFA’s with upside are MTL (need centres have extra 3rd and extra 6th) and Vegas (need AHL depth, have extra 2nd and 5th). Cheer if you think Jack is best.

      • dewtel

        Brouwer removal – Buy the Guy (Option 2) No Guy
        Use the August buyout window. Put on waivers, if taken (oilers can’t, no cap space), best case, no cost.
        Otherwise cut losses, pay $1.5M for next 4 years. $3m savings pays Czararnik, Jankowski, and another depth guy (your choise for 1 complete season). Is no Guy better – hit cheer

        • dewtel

          Brouwer removal – Bury Larry (Option 3) I know it doesn’t Rhyme
          Let him compete at training camp, if he clearly makes the team, he makes the team.
          Otherwise, waive him and play him in the AHL as injury insurance (I believe you get 1 million cap space to pay another player) .
          Trade if can at trade deadline or buyout at seasons end. Bury better – Hit cheer. (Save only $1.5M but more cap friendly vs buyout).
          Feel free to add another option if you like.

        • The Beej

          I didnt trash… but the horse has been beaten to death.

          Brouwer will be bought out next summer. Not this summer. Two main reasons.

          1. Tkachuk raise. His money is earmarked for tkachuk. Meaning we cant really use that cap space for a meaningful improvement since we need it for tkachuk.

          2. Since we dont need the buyout savings until next summer it is futile and a bad play long term to buy out this year and incur a 4 year cap penalty when we dont need the money until next summer. A buyout next summer will only incur a 2 year cap penalty.

          Why handicap ourselves with a 4 year penalty when it is not really necessary? Simple math.

          That said. In support of one of your posts:

          We have the depth now. If Brouwer doesnt make the team on merit he doesnt make it and can be buried as you said. If he does make it then his salary is irrelevant.

          In the end a buy out isnt worth it unless yoy are getting someone to come in a one year deal at 3m. That player would have to be so good that it makes a 4 year cap penalty worthwhile.

          • dewtel

            Thanks for your response. I agree with many of your points and you make a compelling argument to wait.
            When we had our first buyout opportunity, I would have agreed with you completely base on merit Tkachuk raise, our RW needs, and the buyout handicap.
            With our new RW options, we no longer need Brouwer on the PP, PK or top 3 lines. A good training camp, he may 4th line, a bad camp and he’s AHL bound.
            Keep Brouwer – 2018/19 $4.5m 19/20 $4.5m = $9.0m
            Buyout Now (Aug) – 18/19 $1.5m, 19/20 $1.5m, 20/21 $1.5m 21/22 $1.5m = $ $6m Paid, $3m saved
            Buyout next June – 18/19 $4.5m, 19/20 $1.5m 20/21 $ 1.5m = $7.5m Paid only $1.5m saved. (note this a 3 year penalty, as we pay his full salary this year, a really big penalty).
            The trade off $3m saved cap 18/19, then 2 even years, then $1.5m more cap 21/22.

          • WidemansAnger

            Brouwer had 3 Fights, 5th on team for hits and chipped in 6 goals, overpaid but try’s to contribute in other ways when not doing so with points. Great lower 6 for now till you absolutely need the cap space. The heart he brings to the team is great. Not a fan of Brouwer but I think he will be an asset for 18-19. Maybe we can get to the playoff and he can glow like previous years…

  • MDG1600

    I like the Czarnik additon because the greater depth of competition increases the odds that someone will become a “player”. I don’t know if Czarnik is better than Mangiapane or Foo but the odds are better that at least one of the three will become a good NHLer. It is a much better bet than not having Foo or Czarnik and hoping Mangiapane is the guy.

  • Lazarus

    Czarnik has produced at every level. On USA radar from young. 2nd team all star last year. Dynamo. I am bullish on him and he deserves the shot. Nothing left to prove in AHL. Mange and foo have a cult.following but both can use another year in the A and as first.callups. let czarnik play. He has produced and is fiesty.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Cult following? Foo had 16 shots, 6 hits and 2 goals in 4 games. Spin it anyway you want about 4th line time. Just like Kulak surprised everyone and took Wotherspoon out of the conversation Foo and I think Dube will see Mangiapane left behind. This Czarnik guy has AHL cred obviously but I have never seen him skate and have zero idea where he’ll fit. he may well bump Foo back, who knows. FWIW my favorite way to watch a game is sound off, music on. If a player is going to stand out he will. I don’t need color guys to tell me what I’m watching. I barely noticed Mangiapane over 10 games. Foo did stand out. Just my opinion of course.

      • The Doctor

        I agree Foo looked way better than Mangiapane in his call up. Foo was making an impact , scored and also had several dangerous looks on offence. Mangiapane nada

  • StajansFinalPaycheck 3.5

    My expectation of Austin is simply to outscore John Tavares and show the entire sports world why Austin Czarnik was the ultimate UFA signing of 2018!