Nikita Zadorov took a big step forward in both zones in 2022-23

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 year ago
My first piece as a writer here at FlamesNation was about the 6-foot-5 Russian defenceman. Now, here I am a month later, writing about Nikita Zadorov after he finished the final game of the 2022-23 season with his first career hat trick and, shockingly to some, the first hat trick for the Calgary Flames during the regular season.
Zadorov, despite some evident mistakes that resulted in goals against, was a valuable player for the Flames. He was able to play in all 82 games and managed to register 21 points, which is one shy of his career high. However, the kicker is that he obliterated his previous career high in goals (7) and scored 14 in 2022-23. He shot 10.8 percent, which is also a career-high, and he averaged 18:41 of time on ice, the fourth-highest of his career.
Finally, Zadorov threw 268 hits this past season as well, which was, guess what, a career-high by 30. Below are his analytics, which is pretty strong. The finishing is about as high as I have ever seen it in Micah’s data, and the defence is very good, which for a depth defenceman like Zadorov in a Darryl Sutter system, shouldn’t be surprising.
There was plenty to like about the kind of performance Zadorov had this past season. He was one of the Flames’ (and NHL’s) most impactful defensemen, sitting second only behind Tyler Toffoli on the team in expected goals above replacement (xGAR) and 10th in the NHL with 17.3. His regular goals above replacement (GAR) was lower, which shouldn’t shock many people, and actually suggests he was playing better than what the tangible results might show.
It’s evident that Zadorov having another season like this one is not too likely. Doubling your previous career high in goals doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it doesn’t usually happen a second season in a row, even though it would make life more fun if a player like Zadorov almost scored 30 goals. Nonetheless, he will still be a valuable piece to the team moving forward with a reasonable cap hit of $3.75 million.
Zadorov’s comments at exit interviews (and even in interviews before the end of the year) suggest that he wants to be Flame for a long time, and he enjoys playing in front of Calgarians.
If the Flames can find a way to keep Troy Stecher around, that may be the best-case scenario for the defense core moving forward. Even though the analytics might suggest that pair was pretty awful, the biggest problem was Stecher’s defence, which was notably bad. However, the combination of a defenceman in Stecher that can jump into the play and create havoc along the wall and generate offence with Zadorov, who can do a bit of everything with and without the puck in all three zones, is one that I’d be interested in watching for more than 20 games.
The Flames are lucky to have a player with the swagger of Zadorov, even though the likelihood of him recreating his 2022-23 numbers is low. He wants to be a member of the Calgary Flames, and he wants to help the team win, which is the kind of player a locker room that was full of turmoil this season needs.
Letter Grade: B-

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