Matt Coronato making case to crack Flames’ top six with ‘NHL shot’

Calgary Flames head coach Ryan Huska discusses ramping up the team intensity now with only two exhibition games left in pre-season and the NHL regular season looming around the corner.

CALGARY — It’s one thing to hold your own in an NHL training camp as a 20-year-old rookie.

It’s quite another to sit one point back in the league’s pre-season scoring race.

That’s where Matt Coronato found himself late Monday night when his fourth goal and seventh point of the pre-season came via a game-winning snipe that blew past Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck.

He did it with the type of shot Flames fans can expect to see plenty of all season, as the Harvard star has unquestionably shown enough to start the campaign in the Flames’ top six.

“I think he is NHL-ready,” said Dillon Dube of the college kid who lived in his basement late last season.

“I think a lot of it getting to this level is the battle and the strength, and he’s a young kid playing against men and he fits in really well.

“His shot is up there with the top guys in the league – the way he releases it and how quick it is.

”(on Monday) he beat one of the best goalies in the league.

“It’s an NHL shot for sure.”

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We’ve heard plenty about the shot, as the Flames picked Coronato 13th overall in 2021 based largely on a release that netted him 57 goals in 59 games to wrap his second season in the USHL.

On Monday he took a great cross-ice pass from Mikael Backlund, stepped up to the faceoff dot and wired a powerplay goal over Hellebuyck’s shoulder the veteran stopper barely reacted to.

Plenty has been said about his release, velocity and accuracy throughout camp.

But what hadn’t been discussed as much is what helped him add two assists Monday: his tenacity.

“If you watch him away from pucks when he doesn’t have it, how hard he works to try to get it back – that’s why he’s had success,” said coach Ryan Huska.

“He’s been like a dog on a bone and he is hunting things hard.

“It’s just probably a mentality I guess.

“He’s also very coachable

“He’s put himself in a good position, for sure.”

Three points Monday leaves him just one back of the preseason scoring lead held by Jesper Bratt, with whom the rookie is tied with four goals.

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Sure, no one cares or remembers who wins pre-season scoring titles.

But what people will remember is just how well he’s acquitted himself in his first NHL camp.

“He’s done a great job and it’s not easy – I know it was really hard for me to come in as a young player and try to crack a spot,” said Backlund, a first-rounder who needed a couple camps to prove he was worthy of being an everyday big-leaguer.

“He always comes to the rink with a smile on his face, he’s very respectful, we all like him a lot and he fits in great with the team.

“He plays with a lot of energy and that boosts the team for sure.”

On a night when the Flames fell behind 3-1 early in the second period, Backlund credited the youngster with being one of the team’s best players, who helped lift the team back into a game he ultimately won with a snipe that broke a 4-4 tie early in the third.

“I’m assuming goaltenders don’t know he can shoot like he can… yet,” smiled Huska, confident the right winger can be a top-six fixture   

“That will change shortly here.”

Coronato’s impressive camp is a significant development for the Flames who sorely need to see production from the right side after losing Tyler Toffoli in the off-season.

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There’s plenty of excitement in town over the team’s stated youth movement and no one should get fans more excited than the stocky, 5-foot-10, 183-pound kid who averaged more than a goal every second game at Harvard.

He’s no prima donna, nothing is taken for granted and he’s hellbent on putting the work in to ensure his will matches his skill. 

“He’s playing the right way – he’s a worker, he plays hard on the puck, forcing turnovers and making those little plays and that’s what translates into his offence,” said Dube.

“Those little plays he’s making are hard to do, and that shows why he’s an elite-level player.

“I’m happy for him. He’s played really well.”

Has Coronato surpassed his own expectations?

“I think it was kind of hard to have expectations coming out,” said the humble product of Greenlawn, NY, who has played five preseason games, including an opener that saw him score a hat trick.

“I think for myself, I just expected myself to go out and try and put my best foot forward. 

“And that’s just what I’m gonna continue to try and do.”

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