What’s the Calgary Flames’ plan for Matt Coronato?
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike24 days ago
Earlier this week, we did a deep dive into the many, many line combinations employed by Calgary Flames head coach Ryan Huska over the first nine games of the 2023-24 season. On Wednesday against the Dallas Stars, we got a new set of looks, including rookie Matt Coronato lining up at an unfamiliar spot – fourth line centre – for the first time in his NHL career.
At Thursday’s practice at the Saddledome, Coronato was in another unfamiliar spot: out of the main rotation, a likely healthy scratch. Amidst a six game losing skid and a season that’s seen some important Flames players under-perform, we have to pose a question: what’s the Flames’ plan for Coronato?
Here’s a quick rundown of Coronato’s season so far:
- Winnipeg (home): second line RW (with Kadri and Sharangovich)
- Pittsburgh (road): third line RW (with Backlund and Coleman), power play goal
- Washington (road): third line RW (with Backlund and Coleman)
- Buffalo (road): third line RW (with Backlund and Coleman), even strength assist
- Columbus (road): third line RW (with Backlund and Coleman)
- Detroit (road): first line RW (with Ruzicka and Lindholm)
- NY Rangers (home): third line RW (with Hunt and Dube)
- St. Louis (home): third line RW (with Hunt and Dube)
- Edmonton (road): second line RW (with Huberdeau and Kadri)
- Dallas (home): fourth line C (with Greer and Duehr)
(He’s bounced between first and second unit power play in the process, and moved back and forth between the bumper position and the flank.)
In 10 games, Coronato has played with 11 different linemates – the only regular forward he hasn’t played with is Andrew Mangiapane. Coronato has played on every forward line. His five-on-five ice time has varied from 15:16 (against Washington) to 7:10 (against Dallas). His expected goals for percentage has varied from 94.17% (against the Rangers) to 4.66% (against Dallas).
And his role has been wildly, wildly variable. That is, to put it mildly, a challenging circumstance to be in if you’re a 20-year-old forward trying to figure out the NHL.
Arguably the best example of a Flames prospect adapting to the NHL, Andrew Mangiapane’s introduction in 2018-19, saw Mangiapane given a clear role – fourth line left wing – and consistent linemates and then sent to work. The role was defined, his linemates were given similarly well-defined roles, and the parameters of success set as well. A similar transition happened with Dillon Dube in 2019-20.
Sure, roles changed after these players became entrenched as regular NHLers – that’s the idea, you make them NHLers and then can do different things with them – but when they’re making the jump, clear roles and consistent expectations can be huge for helping them become full-time NHLers. And that hasn’t happened with Coronato thus far.
Don’t take this as an indictment of Huska, far from it. He’s in challenging circumstances as a coach. Few of his forwards have been consistently on their game, and high-priced forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri have had challenging starts. For a team hoping for a bounce-back and a return to the post-season, it’s imperative for the coaching staff to get those two players going. And so, through no fault of his own, Coronato became sort of an afterthought as the coaching staff’s Quixotian task has been shuffling lines around to get Huberdeau and Kadri going.
Coronato, 11 games into his NHL career and 10 games into his first full pro season, has become a victim of circumstance and seemingly finds himself on the outside looking in after bouncing around the lineup to this point.
It’s not ideal. It’s not intentional. But it’s the reality of the situation.
Whatever the Flames do with Coronato next, whatever role he’s asked to play, it has to be part of a plan to take a promising young forward and help mould him into a useful, high-performing NHL player. Otherwise, they run the risk of turning a really valuable organizational asset into another Sven Baertschi or Juuso Valimaki.
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