CALGARY — Austin Czarnik signed with the Calgary Flames because of the opportunity. So far, he's making the most of it.
The 25-year-old right winger scored three goals on Saturday night to lead the Flames to a 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
Despite never playing a full NHL season, Czarnik attracted a lot of interest in the summer when he became a free agent. He chose Calgary, agreeing to a two-year, one-way deal for an annual average value of US$1.25 million.
"Coming here, I felt like I had a good opportunity. They came and met with me, which obviously was a big thing for me too. It showed that they really wanted me."
At just five-foot-nine and 170 pounds, he's not big, but he's fast and skilled. Matthew Tkachuk saw his skillset up close on Saturday, assisting on all three of his goals.
"He was awesome," said Tkachuk. "I like playing with a lot of speed and skill on that right side. He's a fast player, but makes awesome plays and you saw his shot tonight, which was great as well."
Czarnik opened the scoring at 6:20 on a power play, neatly completing a tic-tac-toe passing play with Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund.
On his second goal, Tkachuk left a drop pass for Czarnik, who fired a perfect shot inside the far post on Thatcher Demko's glove side.
"My passing is probably my best asset, but that's one thing I've focused on is trying to shoot more. So when I shoot, I think it's alright, especially today when it goes in," he said with a grin.
He is also seeing regular time on one of the two Flames power-play units.
"He's a real good player, a real smart player," said Calgary coach Bill Peters. "He can take faceoffs, he kills penalties too, and everyone's going to remember the goals he scores. He's got that ability to be real dangerous on the power play. We like him, we think he feels a need and we think he's got a real bright future."
Never drafted, Czarnik signed as a free agent with Boston in the spring of 2015, after graduating from Miami University of Ohio.
Stuck behind a deep Bruins team, he spent most of his time in the American Hockey League, playing 154 games for Providence.
Forty-nine of his 59 NHL games came two seasons ago. He had five goals and 13 points. Last year, he only got into 10 games with the Bruins, chalking up four assists. However, he was a standout in the AHL, finishing 3rd in scoring with 69 points (25 goals, 44 assists) in 64 games.
A full-time NHLer for the first time, he says he learned from that first call-up that for him to be successful, he needs to relax.
"Have fun, just enjoy it. That's one of the things I've taken away from my time up. The second year when I was up for the longest time, I was too scared, too worried about the little things," Czarnik said. "I came up last year for a little bit and I just relaxed and had fun and then I think I was more successful. That is one of the things that I'm going to focus on, just enjoy it and take in every minute."
Backlund and Mark Jankowski, into an empty net, also scored for Calgary. Rookie centre Elias Pettersson had a goal and an assist to lead the way for Vancouver. Brandon Sutter also scored.
Notes: Fifteen of the 26 players that travelled to Asia for the 2018 China Games were in the Flames line-up... After Elias Lindholm spent both games in China on the top line alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, James Neal got his first chance in that spot.
Darren Haynes, The Canadian Press