Deep Dive: A look at Matthew Coronato’s game
The Chicago Steel, with Ryan Hardy and his player development team at the helm, has become one of the premier programs for turning out promising young talent each draft year. And this season, even with the ups and downs of the goings-on of the world around them they continued to perform at that same high level.
In a season with innumerable challenges to surmount, not only were they able to win the Clark Cup, but they also continued to churn out some of the draft’s top talent. The program could see upwards of six players drafted in 2021.
At the forefront of this group is the USHL’s 2021 Forward of the Year.
The award was certainly well deserved by Matthew Coronato, the league’s leading draft-eligible scorer who boasts a stat line of 85 points — including a USHL-leading 48 goals, in 51 games. Even more impressive is he kept nearly the same pace of scoring through the playoffs as well, touting an impressive 1.63 points-per-game on the strength of 13 points (nine goals, four assists) in just eight games en route to a Clark Cup title.
Every draft has that ‘small, but skilled’ player who falls in the draft almost exclusively due to his size, and each and every year one of those players makes the NHL and outperforms their draft position. Alex DeBrincat did just that. Brayden Point, too. Cole Caufield, of course.
While this trend seems to be slowly going the way of the dodo as NHL teams start to put more of a priority on projectible skills, and less on size, these players still do sometimes slip on draft day.
Standing at 5-foot-10, Coronato could very well fall into this category of player and ‘fall’ on draft day in comparison to where I believe he should go. However, in saying that, I don’t see Coronato as a small player. Though he is under 6-foot, Coronato is currently listed as weighing 183 pounds, which is a pretty solid base to be working with at his size.
A slight distinction, but as we’ll see in my breakdown, it has some significance to making him different from the rest.
With that said, let’s take a deeper look at some of the skills and abilities Coronato displayed this past season that makes me believe he could be one of this draft’s best undersized players.
Shooters Gonna Shoot
It’s only right to start a Coronato deep dive with a good long look at his shot, and overall shooting habits as those are arguably the best parts of his game. He took 406 shots this season.
According to our friends at Instat, 226 of those were on the net.
Just seeing those numbers, you’d think Coronato is a volume shooter with a low shooting percentage. On the contrary. Coronato has an incredible 25 percent shooting percentage. While that is almost certainly not sustainable, especially at the next level, it’s a pretty incredible accomplishment and just goes to show how elite his shooting really is.
Before jumping into the mechanics of his shot, let’s take a quick look at his shooting habits at a macro level. Here is Coronato’s all-situations shot chart.
Not only does Coronato shoot a ton, but he also shoots from everywhere. The vast majority of his shots come from the coveted home plate area, but as you can see there’s very little pattern to this shot chart. The main clusters come around the left side of the net and the inside top right of the circle.
On the right-hand side of the above shot chart, it shows the accuracy of Coronato’s shooting from various locations in the offensive zone. In all situations, the vast majority of Coronato’s shots come from the home plate, and he’s impressively accurate from this location. Coronato also plays the half-wall position on the power play, which helps to explain the accuracy levels from those locations.
Something that’s even more impressive with Coronato’s shot chart is his ability to generate chances in the home plate area at even strength. For those of you wondering if he’s simply dominating things up on the power play, here’s the sharp shooter’s 5-on-5 shot chart.
Of Coronato’s 244 shots in the home plate area, 150 of them are at 5-on-5. He’s incredible at finding and utilizing space in the middle of the ice to generate scoring chances in high danger areas. And as you can see by all the goal markers in his shot charts, he’s getting rewarded quite often for taking the puck to the house.
Off the rush, Coronato receives a pass into his feet, pops it up to his stick and unleashes a lightning-quick release that hits the post. Even when he’s a bit off-balance and under pressure, he’s able to put a ton of whip on the puck and generate an incredible amount of power behind his shot with great use of leverage with his upper hand. He loads all of his weight on his right leg, holds the top of his stick tight to his body and really leans into it as he releases the puck. This creates so much speed for the puck as it comes off his stick and he beats the goalie but not the post.
This is a great example of how Coronato can create chances on what might be nothing plays for most other players. He’s able to corral the puck quickly and get it into a position to shoot. Most players wouldn’t get nearly as much mustard on a shot from that body positioning.
Continuing to look at Coronato’s shooting mechanics, we see in the video above he has a bit more space to work with to get the shot off after working in from the wall. His form on this shot is excellent. His head is up looking at his target, his chest and upper body are also up and facing the net. He gets the puck in his pocket, right on his hip and sets his legs up to generate the power for his shot. This style of loading pressure in his stick allows him to generate unbelievable speed in his release without the wind-up or drawback that you see in other players.
I do think he will have some trouble scoring some of the goals he did in the USHL at the next level. The competition gets bigger, stronger, and faster. Goaltenders are better. There is less space to work with in the NHL. He certainly won’t be able to push his way to the slot area as he does now without significantly upgrading his top-end speed, as well as his overall strength.
Even still, Coronato is incredibly competitive and creative. This bodes well to him being able to adapt at different levels of play as space gets tighter and continue to be a productive goalscorer as he moves up.
Creativity Is Intelligence Having Fun
In addition to owning an elite shot, Coronato’s intelligence and creativity in the way he scored goals was notable. In watching all his goals from this past season, he impressed with the variety of ways scored. He was scoring off the rush, one-timers, driving to the net for a garbage goal, and also using some soft hands to make some beautiful plays.
Aiding his shot, Coronato is excellent at finding and filling empty space to make himself an option for teammates.
In the above clip, he sneaks down into the corner and fills the hole created by his teammate, supporting the puck well by sliding up and following the play. Once he receives the puck, he meticulously attacks the crease like a lion about to pounce on his dinner. With the puck in his pocket and his head up surveying the situation, he’s forcing defenders to respect the pass option. Coronato makes a quick move to push through the defender’s stick and uses some deft puck handling to wrap the puck around the diving keeper.
I love this goal because it shows how Coronato uses his intelligence to read the play, dictate the defenders to freeze or make mistakes and react to the smallest lanes that are provided to him. It also shows his commitment to taking the puck to the net, something I’ll break down in greater detail later in the article.
I couldn’t help but include this somewhat casual wraparound goal. This is Coronato using a few of his tools altogether while reading and simultaneously reacting to the play in front of him. Everything from the controlled entry, to his tight turn around the net to use it as a shield against the oncoming defender, to the casual way he tucks the puck past the goalie.
I use these examples to show just how versatile Coronato really is when it comes to scoring. But that’s not the only reason he’s a great goalscorer, his motor and competitiveness are almost unmatched in this draft.
Small Player, Big Heart
Scoring isn’t the only thing that Coronato is a natural at.
Competitiveness is core to his play and he grinds on basically every single shift, pushing for every inch of ice he can on the attack. His constant hunting of dangerous opportunities on the forecheck is one of the most evident parts of Coronato’s game. He always is nosing around to get the puck on his stick and the following play is just a sneak peek into his overall drive.
He never quits on this play, and even as he’s competing against a Fargo player for body positioning, Coronato dives and gets his stick onto the puck for a garbage goal. This is his second goal in the third game of the Clark Cup Final.
These are exactly the types of players coaches want on their team — players who will leave everything on the ice to help their team win. The diminutive forward’s drive to get the puck to dangerous areas of the ice is mostly seen through his relentlessness on the puck.
The end result of the above clip is not quite a desirable outcome, giving the puck up in the corner instead of opting to make the easy pass to his teammate supporting him on the wall. That said, the drive through the middle upon zone entry is something that Coronato executes often. In this situation, he’s under further duress and manages to hold on to the puck and get it deep into the zone.
Here, Coronato displays that motor that makes him one of my favourites in the draft.
Absolutely relentless on the puck in the offensive zone. He’s giving extremely little time and space to his opponents, pressuring them into less desirable areas of the ice and into making mistakes.
As I have mentioned, Coronato isn’t a big player. But the fact he can dictate his opponent’s play purely through his body and stick positioning without laying big hits or being physically dominating them is encouraging.
A Mustang In The Making
The headline for this section is paying homage to FCHockey’s head Western scout Justin Froese, the metaphor king at FC. As is implied, I think Coronato has some great power and control in his handling but just needs to improve his handling of that power a bit better. As I’m not really a car guy, I’ll stop torturing you with this metaphor and get back to the skating analysis.
Coronato is a quick, agile skater, who is able to use short bursts of speed to get through the neutral zone and as a result, create a ton of offense off the rush. He doesn’t own elite straight-line speed but can be effective in short bursts, and certainly can keep up at this level.
To break down his skating further, let’s take a look at a few instances of Coronato skating in a straight line.
When he skates, he has some good hip flexion as he leans over his legs, generating good power in his stride. His arms pump at his sides, generating a lot of upper body momentum, and generating a bit more speed. At the same time, he’s getting a lot of touches in quickly. A wide stance, shorter, quicker strides and a quick recovery time between strides really helps him get the most of each push. Exactly what you want to see.
He also owns some great crossovers that can give him an extra burst of speed.
In my opinion, though, he doesn’t use these crossovers nearly enough in his game. If he utilized these and also added some linear crossovers to his stride more often he would elevate his skating ability from above-average to elite. Towards the end of the clip he stops moving his feet, he still gets the goal but I think to be able to finish this chance at the next level he would need to continue the crossovers here and drive to the front of the net.
As I mentioned in the intro, I don’t consider Coronato a small player. He’s certainly not 6-foot-5, but he is sturdy on his feet when he needs to be.
In the above clip, Coronato gets some great speed and is able to drive the net really well. Even as he’s challenged by his opponent he keeps his line and gets the puck out of reach, but is strong enough in his stance that the opponent bounces off of him and he’s able to get a dangerous chance on net. He won’t be able to get away with similar plays against bigger, stronger defenders at the next level, but I like that he showed he could stand his ground and drive a lane here. He has the instincts, he just needs to continue working on his leg and core strength as he develops.
Speaking of development, something I noticed about Coronato is that his skating mechanics somewhat deteriorated from early in the season to late in the playoffs. I felt his feet were dragging more when he was moving in small spaces and he didn’t have the same jump to his step as he did earlier in the season. In addition, as he started trying to skate at his top speed, he was hinging a lot more at the hips.
This resulted in him more so falling forwards and losing power in his push-offs and extensions, and also a reduction in his overall balance and control.
As mentioned in the last section, Coronato plays every shift with his heart on his sleeve. He puts it all out there, this is likely part of why he seemed to lose some of his skating mechanics towards the end of shifts, and the end of the season. This is likely to be a simple problem of conditioning and working on being a more efficient skater to be able to compete consistently at the next level.
The team that can turn Coronato into a truly elite skater will be generously rewarded for their investment.
A Multi-Dimensional Man
Coronato is much more than just a goalscorer. He brings so much to the table all over the ice, including being a set-up man, and even a strong penalty kill option. He’s capable of being a multi-dimensional contributor thanks to his vision and intelligence on the ice. I’ve mentioned his creativity and ability to read the play previously, but now I’ll look at it through a slightly different lens.
This appears to be a fairly routine power play sequence, but I’m highlighting it here because of the skill and confidence shown by Coronato in this play.
He feeds a great pass through traffic, including sticks. He’s got a lot of time and space to work with but the pass is perfectly placed and he’s able to feed it through a very tight seam. At the NHL level, there is significantly less space to work with. Players need to be able to complete plays through a lot of traffic in order to be successful, and although this is on the power play, I like seeing Coronato showing off this skill here.
If you’re looking for something a bit more impressive when it comes to playmaking how about this.
Coronato once again corralled a pass that was into his feet. He quickly gets it up to his stick, but a defender descends on him immediately. He’s got enough awareness and skill to notice and make a slick little drop pass to a defender filling in space high in the zone.
After goal scoring, this is probably one of Coronato’s best assets. Problem-solving in tight spaces, and advancing the puck while under pressure is a common theme in Coronato’s game. He’s constantly working his way into, and out of pressure, making intelligent and skillful plays along the way.
While I think at times he can get a bit focused and lose sight of the overall play, he shows some great flashes of incredible vision. His smart passing plays work in all three zones and he does an extraordinary job of finding the best option available at any one time.
As I’ve just mentioned he can get a bit puck-focused and lose sight of the rest of the play. He generally does a good job of keeping his head up but could be better served in surveying his options. This is most evident in the defensive zone, the weakest area of Coronato’s game.
In the above clip, there’s a bit of miscommunication going on with Coronato and his defender. They both end up circling in no man’s land not really covering off any passing lanes or tying up their opponent. Coronato ends up getting the puck in the corner when his defender forces a turnover, but the play is fairly broken and you can see the confusion in Coronato’s actions as he’s unsure of where he needs to be this deep in his zone.
In this instance, Coronato does a great job of supporting his teammate deep in his defensive zone, surfing up below his teammate to offer pressure release from the puck battle. It’s when he goes for the solo breakout that things start to go awry. He attempts the one-on-one deke down the center of his defensive zone and nearly turns the puck over. The safer play is to play it to his left-side defender for a give-and-go and use him as a springboard for the breakout. It ends up working out, but that was nearly a very costly turnover in the high slot.
These mental gaffs and play misreads are generally of little concern in all other areas of the ice for Coronato. Even in the defensive zone, Coronato generally does a good job of knowing when to get involved and when to play the support role. He seems to be aware of what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are and allows his teammates to fill in the gaps.
As I’m sure you have guessed by this point, I am fairly high on Coronato. I think he displays a ton of highly projectible skills, that in combination with his incredible drive and compete only opens more doors for him to succeed at the next level. I have Coronato as a mid-1st rounder whose ceiling is likely a second line scoring winger, who could contribute to an NHL power play, and possibly even on the penalty kill as well.
In order to reach this ceiling, he will need to improve his skating ever so slightly and continue to adapt his game as space shrinks at higher levels of competition.
As we have seen in the past, smaller players like Coronato have been passed over. I’m not implying he’ll be the next Point or even DeBrincat as that’s a very high bar to set. But I do believe he owns the tools to reach or at least get close to what I see as his ultimate ceiling.
If he slips too far past No. 15, I think there will be a few NHL GMs kicking themselves in years to come.