Does Connor Zary have a realistic chance at the Calder Trophy?

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Stevenson
4 months ago
As the 2023-24 season enters the All-Star break it’s also a nice point to stop and look at possible awards projections. The Calgary Flames have a young player excelling in his first year and could very well end up on some Calder Trophy ballots – that is Connor Zary.
The Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. It is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the conclusion of the regular season.
Connor Zary did not start this season with Calgary in the NHL, instead getting sent to the Wranglers after training camp. He wouldn’t be there long because after six games he got the call-up to the big leagues. That was Oct. 31, 2023.
He would play in his first game on Nov. 1 against the Dallas Stars scoring his first career goal in the process. He’s gone on to collect 10 goals, 13 assists, and 23 points in 39 games. While not blowing the doors off offensively like you’d expect from a rookie of the year, Zary’s production happens to be right up there with the other top rookies of his class.

The competition

Connor Bedard – The most likely winner of the bunch Bedard is truly a special talent. His ability to hit the scoresheet every game on a Blackhawks team that is far, far away from being any sort of playoff threat is unreal. His current injury – a broken jaw – has him sidelined six weeks. This is why the Calder conversation has even remotely opened up. Bedard is still the favourite, but there’s room for 5 names on the ballot.
Bedard ranks first in rookies for points with 33 and first in rookies for goals with 15. He is an incredible driver of offence on a team where trying to be your defensive best just isn’t in the cards. If you get the chance to watch him play, do it.
Marco Rossi – A sneaky major factor into the Wilds season Rossi is showing the world why he was a top 10 pick in his draft year. Rossi has been a key contributor to the Wilds depth scoring while also being a defensively responsible centre. He’s already playing top scoring line minutes with Kaprizov on his wing – a spot any center in the league could want.
Rossi ranks second in rookies for goals with 13 and third in rookie points with 28 in 49 games played. As the season progresses and chemistry develops Rossi will have a chance to shoot up the odds leaderboard. Regardless he’s providing a tremendously safe defensive floor.
Adam Fantilli – The third-overall pick has started to put up points in Columbus, I mean somebody had to eventually. Fantilli has all the makings of a future number 1C the Blue Jackets have needed for a while, but he’s not quite at that level yet. The team around him hasn’t played a decent brand of hockey to support him being an even better player. The talent he has shines through on the scoresheet, despite all the minutes his team spends in his defensive end.
Fantilli ranks third in rookies for goals with 12 and fourth in points with 27 in 49 games played. Fantilli will most certainly keep scoring, but unless the Jackets magically flip a switch the defensive side of the puck won’t be too appealing.
Brock Faber – Maybe the largest threat to Bedard running away with the trophy before he went down with an injury. The extra games gained could have been a real push away from Bedard but the last couple of weeks Faber has struggled. He still is playing massive minutes in his first ever season in the NHL without faltering to a large degree – it’s beyond impressive – but unless the point production keeps up Bedard is going to have a chance to re-run away with it.
Faber ranks first in rookies in assists with 25 and second in points at 29 in 49 games played. The Wild are a bit hit and miss right now with their offence but make no mistake, when things are firing on all cylinders Faber will be involved. The Jared Spurgeon injury just means they are going to rely on him more.

Does Zary have a shot?

After laying out 4 players who all have legitimate claims to gain votes it’s time to see if Zary can make a case to be in the conversation with them.
Offensively Zary is one of just 5 rookies to have double digit goals, three outlined above and Dmitri Voronkov of the Blue Jackets. He ranks sixth in P/60 as well. Other than that he has multiple players over him and no longer ranks top 5 in offensive categories like he did just 2 weeks ago.
Zary had been trending extremely well but has hit his first real rough patch with just 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 8 games before the break. If he wants to be more noticeable the production has to dip back up, but his primary case for votes never came from the offence.
Defensively is where Zary has shone the brightest, although this recent team skid – and the loss of linemate Martin Pospisil – has even his defensive results taking a hit. There’s going to be some roster changes in the Flames future he’ll have to be able to adapt to some changing linemates as the season progresses.
One thing that probably will stay the same is Connor Zary being with Nazem Kadri – the two have developed instant chemistry and were the second biggest reason the Flames even pushed back to a .500 record after a really rough start to the season. The first being Jacob Markstrom, but that’s an article for later.

In conclusion

I don’t think Zary has as a compelling a case as he did a few weeks ago, but getting back into the top 5 in the offensive categories is also only a few good weeks away as well. Right now – even with the time away – Connor Bedard feels like the guy to take it. Faber and Rossi are going to see their names on most Ballots too.
As it stands today I could see Zary getting some fourth and fifth-place votes. Good enough to at least have the conversation about it, but not close enough to say he’s the favourite to win.

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