Flames prospect Matthew Coronato is many things.
He’s the Chicago Steel franchise leader in career goals scored, with 66 over the last two seasons. He also holds the Steel single-season record with 48 goals, set in 2020–21, and was named the United States Hockey League forward of the year in the same campaign.
At 5’10” and 183 pounds, he’s a shorter prospect who has plenty of bulk attached to his frame. He’s a right-handed winger who can slot in on both sides but primarily played on the left in Chicago.
Most importantly (to Flames fans, at least), Coronato is determined to wear the Flaming C.
“I want to play in the NHL. I want to play with the Flames,” said Coronato after being drafted to Calgary with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. “I’m not exactly sure how long that’ll be but I definitely want to do that.
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“It’s so special,” Coronato added, mentioning he had “a good feeling” about being picked when he saw the Flames on the clock at No. 13. “When I heard my name, it was just really special. Something I’ll always remember.”
Coronato will debut at Harvard University as a freshman in the 2021–22 season. Calgary’s most recent Harvard-bound prospect, Adam Fox, reportedly refused to sign with the Flames — or in Carolina, for that matter — and ultimately wound up playing for his hometown New York Rangers.
Just five years after being drafted by the Flames, Fox captured the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2020–21 … while playing for the Eastern Conference team of his choice.
Every drafted NHL prospect has the option to not sign with his original team. The so-called “NCAA loophole” enables collegiate prospects to become unrestricted free agents (instead of obligating them to re-enter the draft) after the expiry of their selection rights, but it also doubles the duration of those exclusive rights from two years to four.
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Theoretically, Coronato could choose to force his way to unrestricted free agency in 2025 after the conclusion of his senior year. If he were a CHL prospect, he could also theoretically refuse to sign with Calgary and re-enter the draft in 2023.
It goes both ways. Regardless, the word “theoretically” does plenty of the heavy lifting in both those scenarios — just ask the player and the man who chose him.
“I’m sure there’s some sort of narrative with the situation we had previously with a player that was drafted and chose not to come here,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving told TSN’s Salim Valji after selecting Coronato. “At the end of the day, you take the best player and we did a lot of homework with Matt.”
“I definitely loved talking to the Flames before the draft,” said Coronato. “I thought the whole staff was really nice, enjoyed my interviews with them. I did have a sense that they liked me and I liked them. It was a good fit and I’m really happy right now.”
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As The Athletic writer Darren Haynes tweeted Friday evening, the last 21 NCAA prospects selected by Canadian teams in the first round all eventually signed entry-level contracts with their original clubs. That figure includes Mark Jankowski, the Flames’ first round pick in the 2012 draft who eventually played 208 games for the team.
Calgary, specifically, has managed to sign plenty of the collegiate prospects it has obtained through the draft. Among those selected since 2010, the Flames have managed to agree to terms with Johnny Gaudreau, Patrick Sieloff, Yan Kuznetsov, Bill Arnold, John Ramage, Emilio Pettersen, and Jon Gillies.
They declined to sign a few others — including the likes of Matt DeBlouw and Tim Harrison — and only had trouble agreeing to terms with two defensive prospects: Fox and Brandon Hickey.
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Coronato has a clear path to opportunity in Calgary. The Flames’ prospect pool is notoriously thin at the wing position and Coronato adds pure goal-scoring ability scarcely seen elsewhere in the team’s pipeline.
If he progresses quickly at Harvard, there’s a possibility he could join the Flames well before his exclusive draft rights expire.
“I definitely don’t have a set plan,” said Coronato. “As of right now, I don’t have a set plan to stay for four years at all.”
Coronato is one of the most dynamic offensive forwards in the 2021 draft class. He’s a tremendous high-volume shooter with quick hands and feet.
His willingness to work in the dirty areas of the ice in the USHL earned him the nickname “the Bison” from Steel play-by-play announcer Mark Citron. “They say it’s because I go hard to the net and ram like a bison,” Coronato told TSN’s Ryan Rishaug earlier this month.
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This Bison now has a spot in Canada’s beef country. He immediately joins — or, perhaps, surpasses — Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier at the top of the Flames’ prospect rankings. (We’ll officially tabulate our votes next month).
Coronato has all the makings of a future top-six forward. He’s not the biggest prospect but he scores a ton of goals and plays with serious jam.
If Coronato’s game translates into the NHL, he’ll be the Flames’ steal from the Steel.