At 21, Calgary Flames prospect Matt Coronato isn’t a finished product (but he’s already pretty good)

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
Folks, I never played in the National Hockey League. Heck, I barely played organized hockey after the age of 12. But there’s two things I think I know: there’s a lot of pressure on first-round draft selections, and it’s really, really tough to be an everyday player in the NHL.
Matt Coronato was a first-round selection back in 2021. And this season, the Harvard University product been learning how to be an NHLer.
Coronato was excellent during the pre-season. Granted, the Flames set him up for success, playing him with established NHLers like Nazem Kadri, Andrew Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund. He led the Flames in goals and points during the pre-season. Yeah, he was with good linemates and played in offence-oriented game situations. And yeah, he scored on 29% of his shots. But he excelled.
The beginning of the regular season was a different story.
The Flames, as a team, struggled out of the gate. And so the Flames shuffled their lines constantly, looking to give their established players a spark. As a result, Coronato bounced around the lineup – even playing a game as fourth-line centre – before being sent to the American Hockey League for more playing time. Coronato had two points over his first 10 NHL games.
If the hope was that Coronato would get his swagger back with the Wranglers, it worked. In his first month in the AHL, he had eight goals and 18 points over 14 games. He was briefly called back up to the NHL in mid-December, playing once as the Flames dealt with a flu bug, and he had another 11 points in 13 games following his return to the AHL.
When Martin Pospisil was injured in late January, Coronato got a week-long call-up back to the NHL leading into the All-Star break. He returned to the AHL and continued to work on his game, getting summoned again in early March due to an injury to Connor Zary.
In five games back up with the Flames in March, Coronato has a goal and an assist. Coronato’s bounced around the lineup a bit – as he did earlier in the season – but the work he’s done on the details of his game make him better equipped to deal with different game situations and roles.
Following the Flames’ 6-3 win over Tampa Bay on Mar. 7, Flames head coach Ryan Huska referred to Coronato as “a different-maker in a lot of ways.” In that game, Coronato made a smart play in the defensive zone to set up a zone exit leading to a goal. He also made a smart pass to set up another goal.
In the Flames’ 4-1 win over Vegas on Mar. 14, Coronato scored a key goal in the third period, but he was also consistently noticeable pursuing the puck in all three zones.
Following the Vegas win, Huska commented to Coronato’s improvements to his game.
“The part that I like about him is he is a student, he wants to be better in a lot of different areas,” said Huska. “So he’s trying to improve his defensive side of the game, and if he’s able to generate and get a few goals along the way, I think it’ll let him feel pretty good about i can do my job at this end and yet i can still score at the other end.”
Thursday’s game against Vegas was Coronato’s 60th of the season. With the Wranglers likely playoff-bound, it seems probable that Coronato plays in over 70 games this season. His previous season high in high-level hockey was 59 games in the USHL, and that’s with less travel. When you factor in all the different variables – playing in hockey’s two best leagues, learning new systems, living on his own, playing against grown men, working on the defensive side of the game, the media scrutiny in a Canadian market – this season has likely been a gigantic learning experience for Coronato.
Given all of this, it’s important to put Coronato’s season into context. He’s 21. He’s been working on the details of his game in the AHL, but is still that team’s leading scorer – and that’s despite missing 17 Wranglers games due to being in the NHL. There’s still some work to be done, particularly in terms of his on-ice physicality – he seems like the type of player who will start winning the physical battles that he’s currently losing after a productive summer of training – but he’s been a productive NHL contributor despite these imperfections.
Coronato is a work in progress at the NHL level and he’s likely only going to get better. And with a lot of attention on him as a first-round selection, he’s already pretty good.
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