After lighting up the AHL as a member of the Providence Bruins last season, Austin Czarnik looked to make a permanent jump to the NHL with the Calgary Flames this season.
2018-19 season summary
Czarnik didn’t play very much hockey for the Flames this season. He lit up the preseason on a line with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund to form the formidable MMA line, but he just couldn’t cement his spot in the lineup, and only played sparingly.
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Czarnik missed 28 games for the Flames, exclusively as a healthy scratch. In the 54 contests he did suit up for, he played primarily in the bottom six, with a few shifts alongside the Backlund line every now and then.
For the most part, Czarnik was nothing more than an average depth forward for the Flames. He was on pace for 27 points over a full 82 game schedule, which doesn’t sound like much, but is essentially the same pace as Sam Bennett the last two seasons. Czarnik didn’t light the world on fire the way some hoped he would after his AHL career and a solid preseason, but he was a serviceable forward that could play in and out of the lineup as needed.
He was fifth among forwards on the team in CF% at 55.92%, second in SCF% at 57.21%, eighth in CF/60 at 61.72, and ninth in CA/60 at 50.65. He was a great possession player for the Flames, but he didn’t dent the scoresheet enough to warrant an increase in ice time.
It was clear early on that Bill Peters didn’t fully trust Czarnik, and instead opted to play other forwards like James Neal and Andrew Mangiapane over him as the season wore on. Czarnik showed flashes of his skill and speed at various points in the season, but those moments were too infrequent for Peters’ liking.
It looks like he has the skill to play at the NHL level, but the Flames weren’t a team that had the luxury to allow him the required time to realize his potential this season. He counted for just $1.25M against the cap, so sitting in the press box for a third of the season wasn’t a huge deal for the Flames. He was used when needed, and played well when called upon. You can’t really ask for more from a 13th forward.
Compared to last season
Last season, Czarnik played just 10 games in the NHL for the Boston Bruins, amassing four assists and averaging 10:55 in icetime. In the AHL, he scored 25 goals and 44 assists in 64 games, finishing fourth overall in points. It looked like he was too good for the AHL, thus the move to Calgary to see if he could hack it in the NHL.
This season was really his first full year as an NHL forward, and Czarnik went through the same ups and downs as most first year forwards face. He saw his ice time increase by 25 seconds, and played significantly more games than the previous year. It was a good step forward.
What about next season?
Czarnik is signed through next season at $1.25M. It’s a small cap hit so it’s likely he sticks around as a depth option for the Flames again. If that’s the case, he should be able to improve on his totals from this season, perhaps eclipsing the 30 point mark and playing a more consistent role on the team.
However, with Dillon Dube chomping at his heels for an NHL job, Czarnik might be in the same situation he was in this year: watching a good chunk of Flames games from the press box.
There is always the possibility that Czarnik gets traded, and because the growth plates of his potential haven’t fused just yet, he might be an attractive throw-in trade chip for the Flames as part of a bigger deal. He did receive plenty of interest last offseason when the Flames signed him, so there are several teams out there that could still be interested in his services, and might be able to give him a better opportunity.
Either way, Czarnik really isn’t a player that moves the needle a whole lot for the Flames. if he stays, he will be a useful depth piece. If he goes, it will likely be as a sweetener in a bigger deal.
2018-19 player evaluations
#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan | #11 Mikael Backlund | #13 Johnny Gaudreau | #18 James Neal | #19 Matthew Tkachuk | #21 Garnet Hathaway | #23 Sean Monahan | #24 Travis Hamonic