Flames confident Coronato’s mix of versatility, sublime skill can fill a void

Eric Francis, July 24, 2021, 1:11 AM, Sportsnet

With the 13th pick in the NHL Draft the Calgary Flames selected forward Matthew Coronato.

The last time the Calgary Flames drafted a player heading to Harvard, it didn’t turn out too well… for the Flames anyway.

After Adam Fox was drafted 66th overall by the Flames in 2016, the organization was eventually informed the undersized but highly skilled defenceman wouldn’t play in Alberta, and would instead hold out for a chance to play in his native New York.

The Flames ultimately had no choice but to trade him, as did the Carolina Hurricanes, setting the table for what would culminate in a season with Broadway’s Blueshirts that led to this year’s Norris Trophy.

This time, the Flames’ similarly-sized Ivy Leaguer insists things will be different.

“I want to play in the NHL and I want to play for the Flames,” said Matthew Coronato, shortly after being selected 13th overall by the Flames. “Not sure exactly how long that will be, but I definitely want to do that. I definitely don’t have a set plan, as of right now. I don’t have a set plan to stay [at Harvard] for four years at all.”

When Flames fans can expect to see the sublimely skilled winger in Flames silks in anyone’s guess, likely based largely on how quickly he can adapt to playing with bigger, older players at the Boston-based university.

If he can maintain the type of dominance he exhibited at his last stop, the road to Calgary might be quite short.

As the most prolific scorer available in this year’s draft, the 18-year-old snagged a jaw-dropping 48 goals in 51 games for the USHL’s Chicago Steel.

He backed that up with nine more in eight playoff games to lift his club to the league championship and honours as its top forward.

He did so with a five-foot-10, 183-pound frame that saw the right-handed sniper convert from the wing.

Able to play any of the three forward positions, he said doesn’t have a preference to where he lines up for the drop of the puck.

Ultimately, he seems to have a knack for finding the front of the net no matter what.

Hence, the nickname “The Bison.”

“They say it’s because I go hard to the net hard, and ram like a Bison,” smiled the native of Huntington, NY. “I don’t have the exact explanation, but it was funny, and it was entertaining.”

He promises to be the same, thanks to a touch that saw him finish a league-record 16 goals ahead of the league’s two second-highest scorers.

Perhaps most encouraging for Flames fans is to hear he’s not all flash and dash — the kid comes with plenty of giddy-up, too.

“My work ethic might be my biggest asset,” he said. “Something I’m proud of in my game is the ability to play 200 feet and be competitive in all three zones. The goal scoring, and that, are two things I’ll continue to work on, but like about my game.”

As far as role models go, they don’t get much better than Calgary native Brayden Point, who just capped up his second-straight Stanley Cup run.

“My favourite guy to watch in the NHL right now,” said Coronato of Point.

“Really talented player with a lot of skill and plays 200 feet and is really smart. I like to learn from him.”

Coronato said he had a good vibe after interviewing with the Flames and hoped it might be reciprocal.

It obviously was.

“It’s a hard-working kid who is driven to succeed,” said Treliving. “People will talk about his goal scoring, and I think he’s up there in terms of one of the top — if not top — pure goal scorers in this draft, but it’s how he scores his goals. His ability to go into the hard areas to outwill people and create chances for himself and others is unique. He’s not a perimeter guy, or a guy who cheats to score. He’s a well-rounded player with a big engine, which is unique for a guy with his finishing skill.”

Coronato also just happens to be the type of skilled player the Flames organization is missing most.

“We always go with the best player available, but I would say that there was an intersection between best player available and positional need within the organization,” he said. “He’s a right-shot. Played right wing this year and a little bit of centre. Was a centre the majority of his career and comfortable in all three forward positions. Right shot guys who have a potential to play centre or wing, that is a need within the organization. It worked out well.”

And the GM is confident it will not end the way Fox’s path did.

“There’s always risk in everything,” said Treliving. “I’m sure there is some sort of narrative with the situation we had previously with a player who was drafted and chose not to come here. At the end of the day you take the best player. We did a lot of homework with Matt. We know the process these players go through in college. I have no concerns.”