Today’s NHL favours those players that adapt to a faster skating, higher tempo style. Power forwards are harder to come by, and sheer brute strength has been replaced by smaller stature players that can maneuver around the ice much faster. Players such as Johnny Gaudreau and Mitch Marner have found ways to carve out incredible niches on their respective teams, and have paved the way for more smaller players to make their way into the league.
Another one of those players is Austin Czarnik, who was a highly touted free agent back in 2018. Courted by a number of teams across the league, Czarnik ended up choosing the Flames as he saw a natural fit on the right side, an opportunity on the roster, and felt a connection with new head coach Bill Peters.
Fast forward a year from his first game with the Flames, and Czarnik finds himself in an extremely precarious position being the 13th forward on the team. Czarnik has never been able to stick full time with the Flames roster, and with a $1.25M AAV he isn’t expensive, but with how close the Flames are to the cap, he’s becoming increasingly expensive to keep on the NHL roster. So what exactly do the Flames have in Czarnik and what should they do with him this season?
Before joining the Flames, Czarnik played in a total of 59 games with the Boston Bruins. Tallying five goals and 12 assists, he was far from an offensive juggernaut but did produce as a depth player in his limited appearances. His true performance came in the minors with the Providence Bruins in 2017-18, with 69 points in 64 games played. This is what put him on the map for NHL teams.
Moving to the Flames last year, he doubled his career NHL totals in just one season with six goals and 12 assists over 54 games. Czarnik went from a 0.29 PPG player with the Bruins to a 0.33 PPG player with the Flames. It’s nothing to write home about, but at the same time it shows pretty much what the team will get out of him at the offensive end. He can produce a point every third game, but don’t expect him to light up the stat sheet on a consistent basis.
Czarnik’s true value comes in terms of his ability to maintain possession and generate scoring chances. Over the past three seasons, Czarnik ranks 27th in the league in terms of CF% with a 55.0% at 5v5 among players with at least 500 minutes played. That is outstanding for a player of his caliber to be able to maintain offensive zone pressure in that way. Last season with the Flames he ranked ninth at 54.9% CF, which is still a similarly strong number on a Flames team that owned possession league wide. In terms of SCF%, he ranked second on the Flames at 5v5 with an outstanding 57.2%. He may not rank the same in terms of HDCF%, at just 48.5%, but he still is able to generate chances when on the ice.
An interesting stat to note is Czarnik’s PDO. Over the past three seasons, his PDO at 5v5 is a dismal 0.972. That’s good for the 39th lowest in the entire NHL among players with at least 500 minutes played. Maybe Czarnik has been incredibly unlucky in his career to date and is due for some regression in that area.
All in all he has been able to individually produce over his NHL career, but the main thing holding him back right now is finding a consistent line to keep him on in order for him to succeed, plus maybe some bad luck along the way.
Last season, Czarnik only appeared in 54 games with the Flames. For the beginning of his stint in Calgary, he formed the “MMA” line with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund. When given that top six opportunity, Czarnik actually performed quite well with #19 and #11:
Czarnik only had a small time with the duo to start the season before Frolik returned to his normal position, but in a small sample size he performed quite well. Of course, the 3M line is the king of advanced statistics when it comes to the Flames, but MMA stands its ground. The biggest disadvantage with Czarnik, as we mentioned before, is his inability to control high danger chances. This is clearly demonstrated when he played on the MMA line, as their HDCF% was much lower comparatively.
When looking at how he did with other centreman, it breaks down like this:
|with Mark Jankowski||134:40||55.4||58.3||59.6||37.5|
|with Sam Bennett||9:51||44.4||40.8||50.0||40.0|
|with Derek Ryan||99:06||48.1||52.5||50.0||50.0|
|with Dillon Dube||9:55||68.2||77.4||66.7||50.0|
Czarnik clearly had the most success with Jankowski last season. Their HDCF% is once again poor, but the other metrics show a strong duo that could form on the fourth line again this year. Although he had some success with Ryan, it was not to the same extent as Jankowski.
What is very interesting, albeit in a very, very limited sample size, are the numbers Czarnik had with Dube. Playing in just 11 games together, and on the ice for just under 10 minutes, the pairing put up some outstanding numbers. Is it a viable option? Sadly, not right now, as Dube finds himself in the AHL. If there was some way to reunite the two in the near future it would be extremely interesting.
What to do?
Czarnik has only played in one game this season, and did not fair well at all, so looking at those statistics wouldn’t be very fair to #27. On this current roster, he is clearly a bottom six forward, but where that is remains to be seen.
The Flames could position him with Ryan and Milan Lucic, or they could put him back with Jankowski and either Tobias Rieder or Bennett. It’s tricky to tell exactly where the Flames see Czarnik on the roster, and in fact, it would make more sense to see him not on the roster later in the year. With the Flames under a serious cap crunch at the moment, carrying a player with his $1.25M AAV as the extra forward doesn’t make much sense compared to one making the league minimum $700k. The AAVs don’t seem that much different, but over the course of 50 games, the cap space adds up. He would likely be claimed if he was put on waivers, which is likely a reason the Flames didn’t try and pass him through at the end of training camp. Perhaps a trade would make more sense in the coming months if he can’t find a permanent position in the lineup.
Czarnik’s game has the potential to be impressive, and he has shown some potential over his young NHL career. Unless he is given a consistent opportunity though, it’s tough to tell exactly what he is moving forward. With Frolik steadily moving down the depth chart, maybe Czarnik can seize the opportunity and cement himself in the bottom-six.
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Photo by: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)