Folks, in the current National Hockey League ecosystem, with its salary cap and younger than ever stars, it’s vitally important for clubs to get value out of their first round selections. And quickly, if possible.

The Calgary Flames have been pretty good at getting their first round picks signed quickly and then getting NHL games from them. But with 2021 pick Matthew Coronato headed to Harvard – he’s wicked smart – it’s easy to wonder how long he’ll be in school and when we can expect to see him wearing the Flaming C.

To figure out what expectations should be, we dug into the last five years of first rounds, dating back to the 2016 NHL Draft.

College boys

Here’s a snapshot of the first round picks from 2016 to 2020 who went to college after being drafted, sorted by number of years they played in college after being drafted.

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Player
Draft
Overall
College
Seasons
Dylan Holloway
2020
14th (EDM)
Wisconsin
1*
Alex Turcotte
2019
5th (LAK)
Michigan
1
Trevor Zegras
2019
9th (ANA)
Boston Univ.
1
Brady Tkachuk
2018
4th (OTT)
Boston Univ.
1
Quinn Hughes
2018
7th (VAN)
Michigan
1*
Oliver Wahlstrom
2018
11th (NYI)
Boston College
1
Joel Farabee
2018
14th (PHI)
Boston Univ.
1
Casey Mittelstadt
2017
8th (BUF)
Minnesota
1
Clayton Keller
2016
7th (ARI)
Boston Univ.
1
Tyson Jost
2016
10th (COL)
North Dakota
1
Charlie McAvoy
2016
14th (BOS)
Boston Univ.
1*
Luke Kunin
2016
15th (MIN)
Wisconsin
1*
Kieffer Bellows
2016
19th (NYI)
Boston Univ.
1
Dennis Cholowski
2016
20th (DET)
St. Cloud State
1*
Tage Thompson
2016
26th (STL)
Connecticut
1*
Jake Sanderson
2020
5th (OTT)
North Dakota
2
Brendan Brisson
2020
29th (VGK)
Michigan
2
Matthew Boldy
2019
12th (MIN)
Boston College
2
Spencer Knight
2019
13th (FLA)
Boston College
2
Cameron York
2019
14th (PHI)
Michigan
2
Cole Caufield
2019
15th (MTL)
Wisconsin
2
Alex Newhook
2019
16th (COL)
Boston College
2
K’Andre Miller
2018
22nd (NYR)
Wisconsin
2
Cale Makar
2017
4th (COL)
Massachusetts
2
Josh Norris
2017
19th (SJS)
Michigan
2
Ryan Poehling
2017
25th (MTL)
St. Cloud State
2*
Jake Oettinger
2017
26th (DAL)
Boston Univ.
2*
Shane Bowers
2017
28th (OTT)
Boston Univ.
2
Trent Frederic
2016
29th (BOS)
Wisconsin
2
John Beecher
2019
30th (BOS)
Michigan
3
Ryan Johnson
2019
31st (BUF)
Minnesota
3
Jay O’Brien
2018
19th (PHI)
Providence College
Boston Univ.
1
2
Jacob Bernard-Docker
2018
26th (OTT)
North Dakota
3
Dante Fabbro
2016
17th (NSH)
Boston Univ.
3
Riley Tufte
2016
25th (DAL)
Minnesota-Duluth
3

Some notes:

  • Players with an asterisk by their Seasons indicates that player was drafted after their freshman year of college.
  • Kieffer Bellows played a year with Boston University, then signed his entry level deal and joined the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for another season.
  • Jay O’Brien played an injury-filled season with Providence College, then went to the BCHL for a season due to the NCAA’s weird transfer rules before joining Boston University.

Looking at the collection of college-bound first round picks, the general trend is that most players spent one or two seasons in college after arriving. Only a few of them stayed three seasons, and nobody went for the four full seasons.

Part of the reason that college-bound first rounders sign fairly quickly is simple: money. First round selections are typically given (a) the rookie maximum salary, presently $925,000 but also (b) performance bonuses. And first round selections tend to be given a pretty good amount of what are known as Category A bonuses, which give them extra pay if they hit certain thresholds for goals, assists, and points, as well as for finishing in the top handful of players in a few statistical categories. Many first round picks are good enough after a year or two of development in college that they can step into an NHL lineup, play significant minutes, make a significant impact and get significant money really quickly. Weighed against a third year of the college grind, a lot of players decide to head to the pros.

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For the curious, 2020’s 13th overall pick Seth Jarvis got $500,000 of performance bonuses (per season) in his entry level deal, so that’s probably a good idea of what’s awaiting Coronato.

Every player is a unique individual with their own hopes, dreams and desires, but at the end of the day players drafted into the NHL have usually dreamt of playing their first NHL game since they were wee lads. And combine that with the opportunity to make serious bank very quickly, it’s no small wonder why so many of them opt out of college after their sophomore season.

In short: it’s reasonable to expect Matthew Coronato to sign with the Flames following Harvard’s inevitable appearance in the 2023 NCAA Championship tournament.