Nikita Zadorov has been relied on more heavily than usual to start this season. Coming into the year on a new contract extension with the Calgary Flames, it was expected the big man would have added responsibility. The Russian left-hander has been forced to take on more minutes as of late due to the recent injury woes plaguing the back end.
Zadorov’s shown flashes of great play while still having some mental lapses and penalty trouble to start the year. At 5v5, Zadorov’s play deserves a more profound look as the Flames look to build off a two-game win streak.
Let’s see where he stacks up. All stats are from Evolving-Hockey.com, using a minimum ice time of 300 minutes.
Zadorov’s offensive impacts
Zadorov has had a solid offensive start to the year. Three goals and one primary assist through 15 games puts him on pace for a career-high 16 goals and a point away from tying his career-high at 22. Zadorov could exceed those point predictions even if he comes shy of the goals.
Further, his plus-minus rating of +8 is the highest on the Flames, which Zadorov holds while splitting time relatively evenly between partners. Nikitas ice-time has been spent with MacKenzie Weegar, Michael Stone, and Rasmus Andersson for 98.65, 85.5 and 33.68 even strength minutes, respectively.
Zadorov is playing with great partners but has also shown how to elevate his teammates’ play. Zadorov and Michael Stone’s early season success is perfect evidence, nothing taken from Stone.
Aside from the box score, the 6’6″ defenceman has looked great in advanced metrics offensively. Zadorov’s EVO of 2.6 ranks him 22nd league-wide compared to defencemen playing a minimum of 300 TOI. EVO measures the even strength offensive GAR (goals above replacement) a player has compared to a replacement level player. A 2.6 is the only positive EVO ranking the Flames have under this criteria. For reference, Sharks defenceman Erik Karlsson leads the league with an astronomical 6.1 EVO.
With all that being said, offensively, Zadorov has been one, if not the best, defenceman the Flames have at even strength. Rasmus Andersson is undeniably critical to the team on even strength and special teams. Still, Nikita has been consistent in his production. If he can keep up his pace, he will have a career year and could give the Flames more flexibility offensively heading into the heart of the season.
Zadorov’s defensive impacts
Defensively the Flames have struggled as a whole, and the injuries have made increasing ice time an even bigger pinch on the D corps. Zadorov hasn’t let those added minutes shy him away from the aggressive playstyle fans have come to know and love. His 43 hits lead the team and place him 35th in the league. Zadorov’s aggressive playstyle; however, has negatively impacted the team, with the big man posting a team-high 19 PIM, ranking 45th in the league. The Flames are just in the bottom half of the league in penalty minutes (18th overall), but some of his penalties have been simply mental lapses.
Circling back to GAR, on the defensive side of the puck measured with EVD, Zadorov posted a 1.2. Second behind MacKenzie Weegar’s team-leading and second league-wide with a 3.0 EVD thus far. Nakita’s rating ranked 28th league-wide, comparable to his EVO ranking.
Moving onto one final metric defensively, Corsi For Percentage (CF%). Nakita’s CF% of 60.2% ranks fourth on the team and second among Flames defencemen, barely behind Michael Stone (60.71%). League-wide among defencemen, Zadorov ranks 17th, another promising standing amongst his peers.
The bigger picture with Zadorov
Overall I think Zadorov has had an excellent start to the season. He’s making good decisions to jump up on the rush and is playing with urgency and control for the most part. His decisions with the puck have improved and with his trio of different partners, he’s evidently versatile.
Even strength play has been the Flames’ weakest point this season. Although it may be hard to tell watching throughout a game, Zadorov is in the top 30 among defencemen in all the stats discussed above. The league’s top 15% of defencemen is tough to argue with.
It’s evident how vital Chris Tanev is when the team posted a losing record with him out of the lineup since last year’s playoffs. Additionally, Oliver Kylington’s prolonged personal absence is mainly worrisome and also frustrating. Having him out of the lineup has allowed Michael Stone to gain more playing time but lo and behold, injuries came crashing in the door.
My point is the Flames had a remarkably healthy season last year, which is already not the case this season. The team needs to evolve and mould around all this adversity and that falls on those players like Zadorov. A fresh contract was earned off a season that many believed to be improvement to his overall play.
He has stepped up so far; he needs to build on it. The whole team is still finding their footing, and he’s still playing well. Consistency in the defensive zone and fewer penalties are all I can complain about in the circumstances he’s been put in. In the next few games, I’ll be eager to see the team build on their current momentum and head into the road trip to potentially change the tone of the season.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire