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How long will Matthew Coronato stay in college?

Folks, in the current National Hockey League ecosystem, with its salary cap and younger than ever stars, it’s vitally important for clubs to get value out of their first round selections. And quickly, if possible.

The Calgary Flames have been pretty good at getting their first round picks signed quickly and then getting NHL games from them. But with 2021 pick Matthew Coronato headed to Harvard – he’s wicked smart – it’s easy to wonder how long he’ll be in school and when we can expect to see him wearing the Flaming C.

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To figure out what expectations should be, we dug into the last five years of first rounds, dating back to the 2016 NHL Draft.

College boys

Here’s a snapshot of the first round picks from 2016 to 2020 who went to college after being drafted, sorted by number of years they played in college after being drafted.

Player Draft Overall College Seasons
Dylan Holloway 2020 14th (EDM) Wisconsin 1*
Alex Turcotte 2019 5th (LAK) Michigan 1
Trevor Zegras 2019 9th (ANA) Boston Univ. 1
Brady Tkachuk 2018 4th (OTT) Boston Univ. 1
Quinn Hughes 2018 7th (VAN) Michigan 1*
Oliver Wahlstrom 2018 11th (NYI) Boston College 1
Joel Farabee 2018 14th (PHI) Boston Univ. 1
Casey Mittelstadt 2017 8th (BUF) Minnesota 1
Clayton Keller 2016 7th (ARI) Boston Univ. 1
Tyson Jost 2016 10th (COL) North Dakota 1
Charlie McAvoy 2016 14th (BOS) Boston Univ. 1*
Luke Kunin 2016 15th (MIN) Wisconsin 1*
Kieffer Bellows 2016 19th (NYI) Boston Univ. 1
Dennis Cholowski 2016 20th (DET) St. Cloud State 1*
Tage Thompson 2016 26th (STL) Connecticut 1*
Jake Sanderson 2020 5th (OTT) North Dakota 2
Brendan Brisson 2020 29th (VGK) Michigan 2
Matthew Boldy 2019 12th (MIN) Boston College 2
Spencer Knight 2019 13th (FLA) Boston College 2
Cameron York 2019 14th (PHI) Michigan 2
Cole Caufield 2019 15th (MTL) Wisconsin 2
Alex Newhook 2019 16th (COL) Boston College 2
K’Andre Miller 2018 22nd (NYR) Wisconsin 2
Cale Makar 2017 4th (COL) Massachusetts 2
Josh Norris 2017 19th (SJS) Michigan 2
Ryan Poehling 2017 25th (MTL) St. Cloud State 2*
Jake Oettinger 2017 26th (DAL) Boston Univ. 2*
Shane Bowers 2017 28th (OTT) Boston Univ. 2
Trent Frederic 2016 29th (BOS) Wisconsin 2
John Beecher 2019 30th (BOS) Michigan 3
Ryan Johnson 2019 31st (BUF) Minnesota 3
Jay O’Brien 2018 19th (PHI) Providence College
Boston Univ.
1
2
Jacob Bernard-Docker 2018 26th (OTT) North Dakota 3
Dante Fabbro 2016 17th (NSH) Boston Univ. 3
Riley Tufte 2016 25th (DAL) Minnesota-Duluth 3

Some notes:

  • Players with an asterisk by their Seasons indicates that player was drafted after their freshman year of college.
  • Kieffer Bellows played a year with Boston University, then signed his entry level deal and joined the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for another season.
  • Jay O’Brien played an injury-filled season with Providence College, then went to the BCHL for a season due to the NCAA’s weird transfer rules before joining Boston University.

Looking at the collection of college-bound first round picks, the general trend is that most players spent one or two seasons in college after arriving. Only a few of them stayed three seasons, and nobody went for the four full seasons.

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Part of the reason that college-bound first rounders sign fairly quickly is simple: money. First round selections are typically given (a) the rookie maximum salary, presently $925,000 but also (b) performance bonuses. And first round selections tend to be given a pretty good amount of what are known as Category A bonuses, which give them extra pay if they hit certain thresholds for goals, assists, and points, as well as for finishing in the top handful of players in a few statistical categories. Many first round picks are good enough after a year or two of development in college that they can step into an NHL lineup, play significant minutes, make a significant impact and get significant money really quickly. Weighed against a third year of the college grind, a lot of players decide to head to the pros.

For the curious, 2020’s 13th overall pick Seth Jarvis got $500,000 of performance bonuses (per season) in his entry level deal, so that’s probably a good idea of what’s awaiting Coronato.

Every player is a unique individual with their own hopes, dreams and desires, but at the end of the day players drafted into the NHL have usually dreamt of playing their first NHL game since they were wee lads. And combine that with the opportunity to make serious bank very quickly, it’s no small wonder why so many of them opt out of college after their sophomore season.

In short: it’s reasonable to expect Matthew Coronato to sign with the Flames following Harvard’s inevitable appearance in the 2023 NCAA Championship tournament.