The Calgary Flames could soon face a Matt Coronato conundrum
Photo credit:Tim Austen/HHOF-IIHF Images
By Ryan Pike6 months ago
Folks, let’s establish two facts. One: Harvard University forward Matt Coronato is the Calgary Flames’ best unsigned prospect (and they very much want to sign him). Two: the Flames face an uphill battle when it comes to securing a Stanley Cup playoff berth.
At this point, here’s the conundrum the club is facing: they can probably lock down Coronato or have a decent run at a playoff spot, but they probably can’t swing both.
The Flames selected Coronato in the first round, 13th overall, in the 2021 NHL Draft. In his draft year, he turned heads with his ability score goals pretty consistently for the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel. He moved onto Harvard as a freshman in the 2021-22 season, and was solid if unspectacular until a few of his teammates went to the Olympics and his role expanded.
In 47 games since Nick Abruzzese and Sean Farrell headed to the Olympics at the end of January 2022, Coronato has scored 30 goals and added 26 assists (for 56 points). (He also represented the United States at the World Juniors.) In one of the most tight-checking college conferences, Coronato’s been over a point-per-game player and transformed into as consistent a goal-scorer for Harvard as he was in the USHL.
Suffice it to say: Coronato’s not a finished product by any stretch – he turned 20 in November, so he has room to grow in terms of both his physical maturity and his game’s development – but he’s showing a ton of promise, to the point where the Flames would like to get him under contract. Brad Treliving, somebody who never really volunteers information if he doesn’t want to, name-dropped Coronato at his post-trade deadline press conference.
But here’s the rub, folks. Coronato is a high-end collegiate player, and he has leverage – his camp probably knows that the Flames want to get him under contract to avoid any hand-wringing if he goes back to Harvard for his junior year in 2023-24. So Coronato will have terms he wants the Flames to meet, and one of them will likely be that he wants to report to the NHL club (and burn the first year of his entry-level deal) get games in.
If the Flames are in a position where they can still make the playoffs, they probably can’t guarantee Coronato that he’ll get games in. It’s probably either Coronato or the playoffs this season.
(Comments section and Twitter repliers, we see you and hear you: Yes, Jakob Pelletier was put into the Flames lineup and has been really good during their attempted push to the playoffs. But he’s a year older than Coronato and had played roughly a year and a half in the AHL learning the Flames’ system before he was slotted in. It’s not quite a fair comparison to expect the Flames coaching staff to have the same comfort level with Coronato, or to expect Coronato to have the same level of success Pelletier has had so far.)
Regardless of how well Harvard fares in the ECAC Hockey conference tournament, we’re expecting them to be an at-large seed in the NCAA national championship tournament. The earliest date that Harvard could play and be eliminated would be March 23, which means the earliest date that Craig Conroy could retrieve him from Harvard with a contract and a private jet to play for the Flames would be March 24.
The Flames play six games between now and then, including four against playoff teams – Vegas (twice), Dallas and Los Angeles. Unless the Flames run the table, they could be distinct playoff long-shots by that point and Coronato’s decision could become much easier.
That said, the hockey gods are often both mysterious and fickle, so don’t entirely dismiss the chance for the Flames to somehow run the table. They have the talent, but have yet to show the consistency. If they can find that consistency, Coronato’s decision-making process – and the Flames’ as well – could become quite complicated by late March.
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