Flames emphasizing patience with Coronato
Less than four days into his National Hockey League career, Calgary Flames’ 2021 first-round pick Matthew Coronato already has homework.
The Flames signed Coronato on Sunday after Harvard lost in the NCAA tournament. He practiced with the Flames on Tuesday, where head coach Darryl Sutter handed the rookie an assignment.
Sutter said he wants the 20-year-old forward to pick out a player and emulate what he does both on and off the ice. The coach already has a role model for Coronato in mind.
“You’ve got guys like Tyler [Toffoli],” Sutter said. “If [Coronato] is a right winger, I’d be watching Tyler Toffoli for sure.”
Toffoli was drafted by the L.A. Kings in the second round (47th overall) in 2010 and made his NHL debut three years later with Sutter as his coach. Similar to Flames’ 2020 first-round pick Jakob Pelletier, Toffoli did not make his debut immediately after getting called up. Instead, Sutter wanted him to practice with the Kings, observe life in the league both on and off the ice, and, like Coronato, find a good role model or two.
“Just watch,” Sutter recalled, of his message to Toffoli back then. “Watch Dustin Brown. Watch Justin Williams, those types of players. Learn from them. See how they prepare. See how they train. See how they practice and then take the next step.”
A decade later, Toffoli said he is still benefiting from the lessons he learned when he was in Coronato’s position.
“I had really good role models and leaders when I first broke into the league,” he said.
Toffoli mentioned Brown and Williams, Anze Kopitar, and Kings’ blueliners Drew Doughty and Matt Greene, as players who showed him how to be a professional.
“We had a super close group, so it was super easy coming into that room and being welcomed in,” he said.
Those players taught Toffoli how to practice, explained drills, and how to prepare his body for the grind of being in the world’s best league. They also imparted valuable off-ice lessons.
“Just the little things – even just being polite when you’re out for dinner, stuff like that,” Toffoli said. “It definitely goes a long way. It just makes people around you in a better mood and makes life easier.”
Coronato mentioned Pelletier and Dillon Dube as players he’s interacted with early on.
“[Dube] has been unbelievable with making me feel comfortable,” Coronato said. “Just everyone's been really great."
The Flames organization is going out of its way to emphasize patience with Coronato and will bring him along slowly as the team continues to chase the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Sutter said he wants to get to know Coronato more and that he’s only seen him play live once, at the postponed 2022 World Juniors. Coronato, a Greenlawn, N.Y. native, also suited up for the U.S. when the tournament resumed in August, tallying seven points in five games. Coronato ended his college career with 72 points in 68 games.
“Think about it, he’s a sophomore in school,” Sutter said, of the learning curve from the NCAA to NHL. “It’s him just getting comfortable.”
Coronato is embracing the team’s philosophy.
"I think it's the next level, right?” he said. “It's a lot faster, a lot bigger, a lot stronger…in the back of my mind I'm trying to work as hard as I can, listen to the coaches, listen to the guys, but just work my hardest.”
Sutter has taken heat this season for how he has managed young players. Pelletier sat for two weeks before making his NHL debut, AHL star Matthew Phillips was barely given an opportunity during his call-up, Adam Ruzicka has spent the majority of the season in the press box, and the organization moved on from young blueliners Juuso Valimaki and Connor Mackey after they couldn’t win over the bench boss.
But there is value in being a sponge and just observing, which is what Coronato will likely do until the team has either clinched a playoff spot or is mathematically eliminated from contention.
“You want to play every night,” Toffoli said. “But at the same time, I think getting the itch to play every single night and prove yourself every single night, be effective, it definitely goes a long way…it makes you work harder. I think if you take it in stride, it’ll take you a long way.”