MacKenzie Weegar lived up to the hype in first Calgary Flames season
Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
There was plenty of hype surrounding the trade that sent Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers and, in return brought Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar up north to play for the Calgary Flames. Of course, the winger that was coming off a 115-point season was the main focus, but the strong two-way defenceman was a point of interest for many fans as well.
It’s hard not to believe that Weegar isn’t one of the most underrated defencemen in the NHL. Even after his excellent season with the Panthers before coming to Calgary, where fans and media alike were turned on by his abilities in both the offensive and defensive zones, he hasn’t gotten the kind of appreciation he deserves for his contributions to the Flames in 2022-23.
While averaging just over 21 minutes of ice time – the third-highest among all Flames defensemen this season behind Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin – across 81 games, Weegar scored just 4 goals and amassed 27 assists for a total of 31 points. And even though his offensive contributions were down considerably this season, he made up for it on the other end of the ice.
There weren’t many defencemen better than Mackenzie Weegar on the defensive side of the game in 2022-23, but to look at those numbers, we need to dive slightly into the world of advanced analytics.
While the below-average offensive production is something to look for moving into next season, it’s the giant purple bars that I want to focus on, particularly the expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60). Weegar was fifth among all defencemen in the NHL in limiting high-danger chances against the Flames at even strength, only behind his teammate Chris Tanev, and he was first in the NHL at limiting shot attempts. Below is his isolated impact per HockeyViz, which only reinforces the kind of performance that he had this season.
It doesn’t take an excellent understanding of these numbers to see that the blue (fewer shots coming from those areas) being a very deep color around the net and expanding out around the defensive zone is the ideal result. A -15% is incredible.
The hope for 2023-24 is that Weegar can recreate the kind of performance he had this past year. The Flames are a talented team trying to find a direction with lots of turmoil happening in areas that the players cannot control. Now that Darryl Sutter is gone, it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of coach the Flames hire, primarily because it appears that Weegar is good at adapting to different systems as a strong two-way defenceman. Under a run-and-gun system in Florida with Andrew Brunette at the helm, he contributed well on offence, while under a rough, hard-nosed, defensive style of game under Sutter, he produced some of the best numbers in the NHL defensively.
Considering all of that information, it’s great for the Flames that they have someone they can rely on consistently in Weegar. So, while he might not have been the offensive juggernaut the Flames may have needed down the stretch, he produced his value in other ways in 2022-23 and should continue to do so even with the changes coming in the front office and behind the bench before 2023-24.
Letter Grade: B+
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