CALGARY — Regardless of what the Calgary Flames do by Friday’s trade deadline, it certainly appears they’ll be adding a new forward by season’s end.
His name is Matthew Coronato.
Coronato has led the Harvard Crimson in goal scoring each of the last two years, setting the stage for the Flames’ 13th pick overall in 2021 to make a decision in the next four or five weeks on turning pro or returning to school as a junior.
“For now, my focus is on winning a national championship at Harvard and I believe we have a strong chance to do it,” said the native of Greenlawn, N.Y., whose Ivy League squad just wrapped up its regular season with a 21-6-2 record.
“Once my season is over, my family, my advisers and I will listen to what Darryl Sutter and Brad Treliving have to say about where they see me fitting into the organization, and then make our decision about whether to sign.
“My intention remains to sign with the Calgary Flames when I’m ready, and I would find an opportunity to play in the NHL attractive.”
Encouraging words from a player the Flames don’t want to risk losing, as they did with another Harvard star — Adam Fox.
Fox was a third-round pick of the Flames in 2016, who informed the club he wouldn’t sign in Calgary, forcing the team (and subsequently Carolina) to trade his rights to the Rangers, where the New York native has gone on to win a Norris Trophy.
Coronato has said from Day 1 he is “grateful” to have been drafted by Calgary and has embraced working closely with Flames personnel throughout his development.
Flames assistant GM Craig Conroy went out east to watch and chat with Coronato last weekend, and Flames director of player development Ray Edwards is at almost every game the 20-year-old righty plays.
The Flames would obviously like Coronato to join the team for the final handful of games, see how he measures up as a pro and eliminate the risk of him returning to college for a third year, which would leave him a fourth year away from being a free agent.
“We love the player, we think he’s had great development over two years — we’ll see what happens at the end of the year,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving, tip-toeing around a delicate issue, as expressing overt interest in signing him could be a distraction for the player and his Harvard program.
“We communicate with him regularly. We’ve been around him all year, lots of feedback for him.”
Last year, when Coronato and the Flames decided it was best for him to return for his sophomore season, he reiterated he had, “no other intention other than to play for the Flames.”
That sentiment remains.
Coronato is certainly aware of the way Sutter handled young players like Matthew Phillips and Jakob Pelletier early on this season, which had many in the hockey world wondering if other prospects with potential options would shy away from Calgary.
“We paid attention to the Pelletier thing, but Sutter didn’t say anything about Matt Coronato or players like Matt Coronato,” said a person close to the situation.
“Matt is Matt. He’s very confident in himself and there’s lots of variables involved here.”
Treliving said it would be a mistake to lump the five-foot-10, 183-pound winger in as being undersized.
“Yeah, you’d like em’ all six-foot five, but at the end of the day he’s a thick kid — he’s got the legs, the big arse and he has really put his work in physically,” said Treliving, who drafted Coronato out of the USHL, where he had 57 goals in his last 59 games.
“I talk about the heavy with Matt – you’ve got to have strength. Where he goes, and where he’s going to score goals in the NHL, you’ve got to be strong on the skates and have a strong stick and low centre of gravity to go into those areas against those big redwoods.
“He does have that.”
With 19 goals and 33 points in 29 games this season, Coronato has demonstrated the versatility and competitiveness Treliving loves. He was also clutch for the Crimson, scoring five game winners while averaging almost five shots on goal a game.
“He’s a had a hell of a year – he was a dominant player at the Beanpot a few weeks ago and his game has matured and gotten better,” said Treliving, who projects Coronato as a winger, even though he played lots of centre this year due to injuries.
“Maybe he could be more productive on the wing. He’s one of those guys who has got a nose for the net and can shoot a puck.”
Sounds like something the Flames could use, pronto.
As this season has demonstrated, the Flames need more finishers, and the quicker they can assimilate a star like Coronato into the NHL, the better.
After all, the most exciting development this season has been the recent play of Pelletier.
The biggest question Coronato needs answered is where he would fit into the organization.
What would be the plan for him and would that include a guarantee he can start his career in the NHL immediately after signing?
Harvard finished second in the ECAC, earning a berth in the NCAA tourney that starts March 23, meaning the earliest he’d be available to the Flames would be March 25. At that point, the Flames will have eight games left.
Should the Crimson advance to the Frozen Four April 6-8, Coronato would only have time to sign and play two or three games with the Flames, burning the first year of his contract, as all top picks want.
“We’ll see,” said Treliving.
“We always say to these guys we’re there to help him in his development and be productive on the ice. The business side will take care of itself after the year.”