Photo credit:Angela Burger/Calgary Wranglers
Matt Coronato is a different player stylistically, but proved he belongs in the NHL filling in for Martin Pospisil
27 days ago
After a tough first stint in the NHL, Matt Coronato was sent down to the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers at the beginning of October to regain some confidence and get some reps in the top six of the fourth-best team in the AHL’s Western Conference and the ninth-best team in the league.
And boy, did he do just that.
In 27 AHL games played, Coronato registered 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists), which put him on pace for 65 points and almost 30 goals at that level over a full season. Despite playing 12 fewer games than most of his teammates, he topped the Wranglers’ leaderboard in scoring and earned a recall back to the NHL for a couple weeks prior to the All-Star break.
In three of the four NHL games that Coronato played in during his January call-up he played with Nazem Kadri and Connor Zary, filling in for Martin Pospisil during his injury absence. Pospisil has since been activated from the injury reserve and Coronato has been sent back to the Wranglers – maybe just for the All-Star break, maybe for longer.
Despite not being a rugged, physical player with an underrated playmaking touch like Pospisil, Coronato found his groove with those two and was clearly trying to make his case to stay at the highest level. Even against the Chicago Blackhawks, where he played with Elias Lindholm and Yegor Sharangovich, he looked much more confident. But it was with Kadri and Zary that Coronato seemed to find his stride.
In the first game that he played after the call-up against the Edmonton Oilers, Coronato appeared to be trying to readjust to the speed of the NHL level while trying to keep their streaking rivals from going ballistic in the scoresheet. He finished sixth in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) in the game despite it being a below-average 44.3 percent, but it was clear that the first game jitters and readjustment period were there. The second game, however, he looked much more confident.
The overall analytics like xGF% were worse for Coronato, but that primarily had to do with his defence and not his offence. On this power-play rush, he went to the right spaces, including the front of the net to try and find open ice for a shot, but his teammates couldn’t find him. However, those are the kind of instincts you like to see in a young player.
However, unfortunately, he made some mistakes on defence that brought down his xGF%, like this one, where he just couldn’t get his stick in the passing lane in time.
In the next game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, however, he was excellent on both ends of the ice, contributing on offence as well as not being on the ice for many chances at all. He was first on the team in xGF% that night at 92.69 percent! The next two highest were his linemates, Zary and Kadri, in that order.
Here he is once again at the front of the net on Zary’s goal, registering the primary assist, as the shot bounced off of him and right to Zary.
It was certainly a fortunate bounce, but he deserved an assist (and Zary deserved a goal) for all the work they had done that game despite the poor result. There was clearly much more confidence for Coronato in that game than there had been in any previous match before. He was making an impact in transition, getting in on the forecheck, applying pressure in the defensive zone at the point, and then working the puck around intelligently in the offensive zone as well.
And finally, against the Blackhawks, he was once again poor defensively, according to the analytics. Although, I don’t think that game was one many of the players would look back on and say they played even close to their best hockey in any of the three zones. Offensively, his line with Lindholm and Sharangovich was second in offensive production behind only the Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, and Blake Coleman line, who were on it the entire night.
Almost the entire team made the Blackhawks look fantastic, and it’s important to note that that game is important to take into account, but Coronato wasn’t playing with the two players he had clearly become comfortable with.
No one can replace what Marty Pospisil brings to the Flames lineup, and when the All-Star break is over and regular season play resumes, it will be interesting to see what head coach Ryan Huska does with the lines. It would shock me if he doesn’t return back to the line of Zary-Kadri-Pospisil because of just how effective they were. But, I do think that Coronato being given that high-leverage ice time and being able to get comfortable in that top-six spot with those two players was a huge benefit to his development.
There are lots of decisions to be made, but I liked what I saw from Coronato with Kadri and Zary while Pospisil was out. He’s a different player in terms of style, but the comfortability and confidence were there, so it was a good decision to have him fill in on a line that had provided some sort of depth in the Flames lineup.
It’ll be interesting to see where Coronato fits in whenever he returns to the Flames’ roster.
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