Matt Coronato’s first pro season hasn’t been perfect, but he’s making progress

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
28 days ago
In an ideal world, a highly-touted first-round draft choice would sign their entry-level deal with their National Hockey League club, make that team out of camp and then set the hockey world ablaze. While that does happen, it’s not the norm, and often the first year or so of a player’s pro career involves some growing pains as they adjust.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the first pro season for Calgary Flames 2021 first-round draft choice Matt Coronato.
A product of the USHL’s Chicago Steel and the NCAA’s Harvard Crimson, Coronato was flat-out excellent during training camp and the pre-season schedule. You could argue that, yeah, he was given opportunities to shine, but he took advantage of those opportunities and consistently generated offence when he was on the ice. He deservedly found himself on the Flames’ roster when camp ended.
But when the calendar flipped over and the regular season schedule began, Coronato didn’t have nearly the same level of success. Part of that was the pace and level of play ratcheting up coming out of the pre-season – the regular season is a whole new gear – but another part that contributed was the team shuffling lines during a 10-game stretch that saw the club go 2-7-1.
Coronato played on four different lines during that first 10 games, including a stint at centre on the fourth line, before he was sent down to the American Hockey League’s Wranglers on Nov. 3. While Coronato definitely struggled, the situation he was being used in with the big club wasn’t conducive to success. At the beginning of March, after 40 games in the AHL (and a couple brief NHL call-ups as an injury replacement), Coronato returned to the big club and has worked his way back into the forward rotation.
Speaking with the media following Monday’s practice at Winsport, Flames head coach Ryan Huska commented on the growth he’s seen in the details of Coronato’s game since his first NHL stint in October.
“We’ve talked a lot about the American League coaches, they try to play the same way we do, they try to instill the same things into their players that we do,” said Huska. “You can see that they’ve spent a lot of time with Matt. Because this time, since he’s come up, you can see a guy that’s really, he’s aware of where he should be on the ice, he knows where to put his stick now, so I think a lot of that credit has to go to the American League staff and the time they’ve put in with him because it’s noticeable, and that’s going to give him more opportunities to play in more situations because of how he’s trying to really learn it, but he’s also applying it, which is the cool thing for us to see.”
Huska was asked if those steps need to be there before the production comes along.
“Yes, to be a complete player I think they do,” said Huska. “And then once you really have a handle on how you have to play the game, and then you don’t think about it anymore, you just play, which will allow a player just to find those spots where he’s good at getting into and it’s going to allow him to shoot the puck more, because he doesn’t have to think as much when he’s in a position where he doesn’t have the puck. So he’s getting himself there, and as we’ve mentioned earlier, he’s much better than what he was the first few times we brought him back up. So he’s done a good job.”
It goes without saying that pro hockey is a lot different than college hockey, where Coronato spent two years before joining the Flames. Huska agreed with the premise that Coronato has been adjusting to the nuances of the pro game.
“I think part of it,” said Huska. “I also think part of it is the schedule. This is a different schedule. I think at Christmas time, the amount of games that he had played was more than his last couple years almost combined. So he’s got to learn how to manage a workload… the practice schedule, the travel schedule, and he has to find a way to take care of himself to make sure he’s energized and that takes a little bit of time. That’s part of the growing and learning process, and I think he’s figured it out now, and he’s getting to the point where he’s much more comfortable when he’s being put in these type of situations.”
For reference, as of Monday, Coronato had played 65 games this season – 25 in the NHL and 40 in the AHL. Last season, he played 34 college games, one NHL game, and then played another 10 games at the World Championships.
In Coronato’s first 10 NHL games this season, he had a goal, an assist, 23 shots on goal, and a minus-9 rating. In Coronato’s 10 most recent NHL games, he has a goal, two assists, 13 shots on goal, and a minus-5 rating. At the beginning of the season, Coronato had to be used in offensive situations to be effective. In his recent run, he’s shown much more versatility, and that’s made him a player that Huska can put on the ice in a wider variety of situations.
It’s natural to have high expectations of a first-round draft choice, and Coronato’s not yet the player he’s going to be. But 65 games into his pro career, he’s made a lot of progress already.
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