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When do we start to consider Connor Zary a serious Calder Trophy contender?

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Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
6 months ago
The Calder Trophy race coming into the 2023-24 season was going to be a tight one, no matter what. With a class containing names like Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Marco Rossi, Logan Cooley, Luke Hughes, Luke Evangelista, Matthew Knies, and many others, there was bound to be plenty of competition. Before the season started, there was an assumption that Matt Coronato would be in the competition as well, but instead, we’re getting Calder-level production from a different rookie in the Flames ranks, Connor Zary.
After making his presence felt in the AHL with the Calgary Wranglers, scoring 10 points in six games, he was called up to the big show and has been utterly phenomenal, most recently on a line with Martin Pospisil and Nazem Kadri at centre. He has scored 7 goals and 9 assists for 16 points in 22 games, which ranks sixth in the rookie leaderboard, with everyone above him having played a minimum of 30 games. In terms of points per game, he’s second only to Bedard.
The analytics back up what the box score and the eye test are saying. Zary is very, very good so far this season. He is first on the team in goals above replacement (GAR) and second on the team in expected goals above replacement (xGAR), only behind MacKenzie Weegar by 0.2 in 10 fewer games. He has also managed to keep an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) over 55 percent, which places him fifth among all rookie skaters with at least 280 minutes of time on ice in that category.
Below are some fun highlights that Zary has produced over the course of this season, starting with this solo effort to score on Andrei Vasilevskiy.
And here is another Zary goal that requires an unreal amount of skill, as he batted the puck out of mid air.
And finally, here’s a goal that was credited to Nazem Kadri after it bounced in the net off his body, but nonetheless, Zary’s off-the-puck play opens him up for the chance to shoot.
Not only has Zary been a force on the offensive side for the Flames, but defensively, he has been one of the best rookies thus far. He sits third in expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) behind only Tyson Foerster and Brock Faber. He has been one of the best rookies up and down the ice in both zones.
The only thing that fans might have in terms of opposition to Zary’s Calder case is the sample size. He has played fewer than 30 games, which might turn some people away, but at this point, 20-plus games is a solid enough sample size to suggest that he should be included in the Calder conversation, especially given the way he is performing on and off the puck. As of now, he should be well in the conversation and have his name considered for the award.

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