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

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 year ago
Nikita Zadorov has bounced around the Western Conference since debuting in 2013-14 with the Buffalo Sabres and being traded from the team to the Colorado Avalanche in the deal, with Ryan O’Reilly coming back the other way. He has had stints to varying degrees of success with the Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks, but now that he’s with the Calgary Flames, he has made himself a staple of the top four in the defence core. 
The 6-foot-6 left-handed defenceman is having an excellent season on Calgary’s back-end. Even though Zadorov is not currently on pace to break his career high in points, which he reached last season in a Flames uniform with 22 in 74 games, he has already reached a career-high in goals (8) and his second-highest average time on ice in his career (19:18). 
The best news for Flames fans is that if head coach Darryl Sutter continues to play him as much as he is, there’s evidence to suggest he will provide excellent value on both ends of the ice. 
Zadorov’s career high in average ice time came in his third season with the Avalanche, where he played 19:28 throughout the campaign. He scored 7 goals and registered 20 total points. That season was also one of the best regarding his underlying numbers. 
In 2022-23, Zadorov’s ice time increased by 2:23 on average, and there is reason to believe that this has also caused his ascendance in statistical output. Below is his regularized adjusted plus-minus chart courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.
To go even further into the weeds, Zadorov’s goals above replacement (GAR) of 6.9 is the highest of his career and third on the Flames as a whole, while his expected goals above replacement (xGAR) at 10.2 blows his previous highest (5.9) out of the water. He sits second on the team in that category for 2022-23. 
The year he averaged 19:28 in time 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.
When he’s playing more minutes, he’s more effective. Playing next to a solid two-way defenceman in MacKenzie Weegar will help him as it did with Erik Johnson in Colorado. It provides him more leeway to play an aggressive and physical game.
The one caveat of all this is his only year in Chicago in 2020-21, where he played next to Connor Murphy, who analytically was one of the team’s most effective players and wasn’t very strong. Offensively, he was a nightmare, although defensively, he was still very effective and arguably one of the best on the team, particularly at even strength. 
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely why the offence disappeared from him (even though the bar isn’t exceptionally high in the box score), and it may just be that Zadorov had a down year with all of the Covid-19 drama. It could also be related to his deployment. He was deployed in the defensive zone 61.6% of the time at even strength with the Blackhawks, 4.5% more than the next highest in 2015-16.  
However, no matter why his offensive value disappeared, it doesn’t appear to be a consistent trend. Ultimately, the more ice time Zadorov gets, the more likely he is to produce excellent results. 
Some fans may not like the way that Zadorov plays the game. He’s a big guy that takes advantage of his size and makes his opponents pay. But the results are there, and as he’s gotten older, he has proven to be an above-average defensive defenceman with some offensive upside if put in the right situation. 
The increase in ice time has done nothing but help Zadorov, just as it did when he was in Colorado and even in the defensive end in Chicago. And if the Flames want a shot at the postseason in the second half, he will need to be as good as he was in the first.


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