WWYDW: Where does Austin Czarnik fit in?

During the offseason, the Flames made several moves in order to bolster their forward depth. One of the less heralded ones was the signing of Austin Czarnik, a 25-year-old with minimal NHL experience but extremely promising AHL results.

Czarnik was a big deal at the time for a couple of reasons: there was a mass bidding war for his services, and he’s a right-shot centre. Being a right shot was of particular importance to the Flames, since their depth on the right side has been, well, shot pretty much ever since they traded Jarome Iginla. Having the most sincere interest in Czarnik – travelling to meet with him in person and boasting of the opportunities he’d get (including on the powerplay) – the Flames won the bid for his services.

Now, 15 games into the season, Czarnik’s usage makes less and less sense. His most common linemates are Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, two staples of the Flames’ top six. Averaging 13:09 a game, he’s the Flames’ seventh-most played forward during games, behind four point-per-game forwards, top defensive centre Backlund, and James Neal, who has something of a well-earned reputation for putting up a lot of points. He’s eighth in forward powerplay ice time as well, behind those six players, plus Derek Ryan.

… But Czarnik has only played in eight games this season, sitting as a healthy scratch for seven of them to date. He’s expected to draw in against the Ducks Wednesday night, but that might only be because Dillon Dube may not be available after a harsh hit from Duncan Keith into the boards.

Therein lies the bizarre duality of Czarnik’s time with the Flames over the first bit of the season: either he’s good enough to be counted on as a regular contributor (and it should be noted, his play alongside Backlund and Tkachuk has garnered a 69.77% 5v5 CF: yes, it’s Backlund and Tkachuk, but Czarnik has definitely added to what’s been a pretty good line), or he isn’t good enough to play at all, with extremely little in between.

One could point to a fault of his being that he only has three points so far this season, but so does Ryan, while Garnet Hathaway, Mark Jankowski, and Dube only have two points each, so that excuse doesn’t line up; most depth Flames forwards are having trouble scoring. His own 60.92% 5v5 CF is second best on the Flames, behind Backlund. He hasn’t taken any penalties, and has even drawn two. There’s absolutely nothing in any of his numbers to indicate that he should sit, and yet, he’s become the Flames’ most frequent healthy scratch among regulars (i.e. not Dalton Prout, but someone who has at least played semi-often).

So what would you do? If Czarnik can only draw into the lineup due to someone else’s injury, is that the right move regarding him, or should he be playing more? If he should be in the lineup, would that be as a fourth liner, or someone higher up the food chain – or does he not score enough to justify that?

What is Czarnik’s role with the Flames? What should it be, and where does he actually fit in?

  • MWflames

    I think its too early to really make judgement on Czarnik. If nothing else he deserves some more opportunity to play and make a case for himself.

    It looks like neal is getting a shot with 2M which i think is good experiment to try. So i’d stick czarnik on the right of bennett and janko. This leaves a fourth line of Frolik/ryan/hathaway.

    I haven’t minded hathaway game this year; generally speaking the fourth line has been good at generating zone time and ozone faceoffs for scoring lines which is really all you can ask for from a 4th line…

    I’d roll with this for a few games while dube is out. This will be a good time to see how much dube is missed or not. I like his game, and he can play at this level, but would 20 minutes a night in stockton for a couple months get him to a better place come playoffs? I think probably, yes.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      The only problem I had with the Czarnik signing was the organization had a similiar player already in Mangi. They had similar AHL stats and modest NHL stats and in Mangi’s case no stats but far less opportunity. I am not sure why the Flames felt that Czarnik would be a better candidate to breakout than Mangi. Personally, I think a Mangi would have more NHL points this year than Czarnik given the same linemates and PP opportunity.

  • Skylardog

    I know it doesn’t always appear to be the case, but the success so far this season is fantastic. I love that they are leading the Pacific.

    But on so many fronts, the success is precarious. Relying on combacks, scoring from just a few, weak goaltending at times, HDCA rates that had been ridiculous, getting behind, PP failures, PK disasters…

    Two things really stick out that concern me. Lindholm’s 9 goals come from a 22.5% shooting percentage. He is a career 9.3%, and that includes this years 22.5%. And Frolik’s 26.92%. Career, he is just a 8.1% shooter. Add in Hath at 22.2% and Mony at 20% (15.1% career).

    Bounces have gone our way. I hope it continues. But this team has so much potential. They need to win the right way. It needs to be sustainable. Combacks and guys that historically can’t score potting key goals is a risky way to run. The recent win streak could just as easily have been at least a 7 game losing streak. They have played well defensively, but just one or 2 stops by goalies and the combacks would have fallen short.

    This is a team that should win the Pacific and challenge Nashville for best in the West. To do that you have to play and win the right way.

    • cjc

      Good observation – I think that is something that gets lost in our 100 PDO (which suggests even luck). The shooting has been something else, while the goaltending has been horrendous. Those shooting percentages will come down. I am not confident that the goaltending will improve immensely.

      That said, some buys have been really snakebitten. Neal is only shooting 8% (Career 12%). The D corps only has 4 goals – that should improve, too. We’ve heard a lot about the chances that Dube has gotten as well.

    • LannyMac

      Unbelievable Sky your tone listed some good things happening with the team. The concerns you listed are absolutely bang on in yet a third of the people that read your post trashed it. There is a fine line btwn winning and loosing in the nhl. The talent is so close from one team to the next. People Sky is not expecting perfection from your team but he is absolutely right the flames could just as easily have a loosing record I don’t know how people can deny that. The flames have a lot to work on to align themselves with some of the favourites in the league.

  • Nick24

    It’s really incredible that Hathaway has been getting regular playing time over Czarnik. Hathaway, in almost every measurable way, should not be in the NHL.

    • LannyMac

      Nick please explain to me how Czar has been more valuable than Hath. I’m not saying Hathaway has been better but whe Hath is skating and hitting and sh!t disturbing he has way more value than Czar this year

  • J Doge

    I know Czarnik hasn’t proved he is NHL worthy yet but the guy had upside in his skill and speed. He’s little but is a little bit chippy from what I’ve seen at least compared to Ryan. Give him a chance the guy can at least put up hat tricks in pre season which doesn’t really matter but it’s worth a shot.

  • The Beej

    I think its hard to put him on the fourth line instead of Hathaway for some reason. His style of play does make more sense in the top 9 so if he cant outproduce someone in the top 9 he might be sitting some nights.

    Nice depth to have though. I would play him more but who knows… could be he is a little banged up. If I was the coach of this team I would have trouble making the decision on who to sit. Even the guys not playing as well you want to give them enough ice time to get rolling. I would maybe just sit the most injured or banged up player out of the bottom 6 or go with some type of rotation to make sure everyone is engaged and involved.

    Anyway it is still early and he should get lots of opportunity over the season to establish himself.