Nikita Zadorov is providing career-best value after an increase in ice time

Nikita Zadorov has been in the Western Conference since his 2013-14 debut with the Buffalo Sabers and was traded from the team to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the deal, while Ryan O’Reilly returned the other way. He’s had mixed success with the Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks, but now that he’s with the Calgary Flames he’s become a staple of the top 4 defensive core.

The 6-foot-6 left-handed defender is having a stellar season in the Calgary back end. While Zadorov is currently unable to match his career best, which he set in a Flames jersey last season with 22 in 74 games, he already has a career-best goals record (8) and his second-highest average time on hold in his career (19:18).

The best news for Flames fans is that if head coach Darryl Sutter continues to play him this much, there are signs he will offer excellent value on both sides of the ice.

Zadorov’s career-high ice time average came in his third season with the Avalanche, where he played 19:28 throughout the campaign. He scored 7 goals and recorded 20 total points. This season has also been one of the best in terms of its underlying numbers.

In 2022-23, Zadorov’s Ice Age increased by an average of 2:23, and there is reason to believe that this has also led to his rise in statistical results. Below is his normalized adjusted plus-minus chart courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.

Going further into the weeds, Zadorov’s goals over reserve (GAR) of 6.9 is the highest of his career and the third-highest for the Flames overall, while his expected goals over reserve (xGAR) of 10.2 is his all-time high ( 5.9) blow up. no more water. He ranks second on the team in that category for 2022-23.

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The year he averaged 19:28 on ice with Colorado was the season he had his current third-highest season in GAR and second-highest season in xGAR, suggesting that the more ice time, the better.

If he plays more minutes, he is more effective. Playing alongside a solid two-way defender in MacKenzie Weegar will help him, as it did with Erik Johnson in Colorado. It gives him more scope for an aggressive and physical game.

The only caveat to all of this is his only year at Chicago in 2020-21, where he played alongside Connor Murphy, who analytically was one of the team’s most effective players and not very strong. Offensively he was a nightmare, although defensively he was still very effective and arguably one of the best on the team, especially when balanced in strength.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the offense has vanished from him (although the boxing score bar isn’t exceptionally high) and it can only be that Zadorov has had a bad year with all the Covid-19 drama. It could also be related to its use. He was used 61.6% of times in the Blackhawks’ balanced-strength defensive zone, 4.5% more than the next highest in 2015-16.

But no matter why his offensive stat has disappeared, it doesn’t seem to be a consistent trend. Ultimately, the more Ice Age Zadorov gets, the more likely he is to achieve excellent results.

Some fans may not like the way Zadorov plays the game. He’s a big guy who takes advantage of his size and makes his opponents pay for it. But the results are there and as he has aged he has proven to be an above average defensive defender with some offensive advantages when put in the right situation.

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Extending the Ice Age has only helped Zadorov, just like it did when he was in Colorado and even on the defensive end in Chicago. And if the Flames are going to have a postseason shot in the second half, he needs to be as good as he was in the first.

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