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A week ago, Austin Czarnik capped a three-game conditioning stint in the minors with an end-to-end rush and a glove-side snipe for an overtime winner.
His next action will also come with the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat … unless he is snatched by another organization.
Czarnik was available Wednesday on the NHL waiver-wire, a necessary step for the 27-year-old right-winger — recently returned after a six-week layoff due to a high-ankle sprain — to be demoted to the farm club.
“He’s now ready to play and needs to play, that’s really it,” said Flames general manager Brad Treliving. “We made the decision here to put him on (waivers) and if he goes through, he’ll go down and play some games, which he needs to. He’s been off an awful long time. Those are difficult injuries to come back from.
“Quite frankly, we had a couple last year and they’re long and frustrating. So he needs to get back up to speed.”
One way or another, Czarnik will be on an outbound flight shortly after Thursday’s 10 a.m. MT waiver deadline.
There were reportedly 20-some teams showing interest when he signed with the Flames as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, so it wouldn’t be a shock if he was claimed by another club. His contract comes with a salary-cap hit of US$1.25-million.
The brass at the Saddledome would probably prefer to keep Czarnik, but he’s been leapfrogged by others on the forward depth chart. Interim head coach Geoff Ward confirmed as much prior to Tuesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, telling reporters he had a meeting with No. 27 and explained, “he just has to be better than one of the 12 that are in.”
It’s certainly a good sign for the Flames, who cap a four-game homestand with Thursday’s matchup with the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), that there isn’t an obvious candidate to come out of their lineup.
Dillon Dube has made the most of this latest call-up, looking like a guy who is now in the big leagues to stay.
Michael Frolik just finished a three-game goal-scoring spurt, while fellow fourth-liners Mark Jankowski — scratched against the Penguins — and Tobias Rieder are valuable pieces on the penalty-kill.
Zac Rinaldo was reassigned Wednesday to the Heat, although Treliving hinted he could be back very soon.
Czarnik’s most recent outing in the Flaming C was back on Oct. 24 — he scored that evening, stretching his point-spree to three straight games.
After Tuesday’s morning skate, not quite 24 hours before he learned he had been placed on waivers, the undersized speedster admitted he was frustrated by his spare-part status but vowed to continue to push for another opportunity.
“I have to take every day and just work my hardest,” said Czarnik, who has three points — two goals and one helper — in eight appearances with the Flames this season and posted the same number in his hat-trick of twirls with the Heat during his conditioning stint. “I obviously wanted more when I came back but I’m just trying to be positive and do the right things every day. And when my time is called, I’m going to try to make the most of it. For now, I’m just getting good hard work in and making myself ready for whenever they need me.
“It’s just a waiting game now. All I can do is prepare the way I can and hopefully it sets me up to be successful whenever I’m back in.”
That waiting game could continue in Stockton.
Unless, that is, another club claims him instead.