It’s been a year since the Calgary Flames made the hockey world explode when they traded Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers in return for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. And while Huberdeau saw his struggles with the Flames this past season, Weegar performed at a high level for the Flames, even though the team disappointed overall. And with the next season just under two months away, it seems as though Weegar is flying under the radar in terms of his on ice abilities going into 2023–24.
Weegar’s strong 2022–23 season
Weegar had a little bit of a rocky start to his time as a Flame. After inking an eight-year, $50 million contract, Weegar had a two-point night in his first game a Flame against the Colorado Avalanche. He then only had eight points in his next 39 games and didn’t notch his first goal as a Flame until New Years Eve against the Vancouver Canucks. Not the ideal start for a player who just signed a massive contract. But Weegar’s game goes beyond the points, and to some casual fans or people that don’t watch the Flames all that much, Weegar is one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL.
Weegar was often deployed on the Flames’ shutdown pair, whether it was alongside Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov or Rasmus Andersson. Weegar was often seen playing against top competition. And Weegar did more than just hold his own, through 81 games this past season, Weegar sported a 61.4 CF%, a 70.2 xGF%, and a 42.1 CA/60 (according to Hockey-Reference.com). Although Weegar’s counting point totals were not all that impressive (4 goals, 27 assists for 31 points), those are all elite metrics for a player who played over 1,400 minutes last season.
Further, according to JFreshHockey’s model, Weegar ranked in the 99th percentile for Even Strength Defensive Metrics and in the 98th percentile for Penalty Kill WAR, some extremely impressive numbers that show that he didn’t fall off defensively from his Florida days, they actually got better.
He also finished the season on an incredible high with 12 points in his last 20 games—he was the Flames’ workhorse on the backend. He then took that momentum into the World Championships where he had 11 points in 10 games where he took home a gold medal for Team Canada and was named the best defencemen of the tournament—not a bad way to end the hockey season.
Why is Weegar underrated?
Over the past year it seems like Weegar hasn’t been getting the respect he deserves. Like I mentioned above, sure his counting point totals don’t jump off the page like an Erik Karlsson or Cale Makar, but that isn’t Weegar’s speciality. Every time I see a top defencemen list online or on TV, it seems as though Weegar’s name gets left off.
Now why is that? The slow start to his season? The disappointment the Flames were all year? It could be a combination of those things for sure, but I think it’s because his game isn’t flashy, and maybe because people expected more out of Weegar. But all you had to do was watch him to understand what makes him so good. The smooth transitions out of the defensive end, the smart defensive plays he can make on a player that’s either attacking him on a one-on-one situation or going into the corner to retrieve a puck with a forechecker on his tail. It is all so subtle, but it’s those plays that make him so effective at what he does and what makes him a top defender in the league.
2023–24 season outlook
Going into the first year of his new deal, Weegar will be heavily relied by Ryan Huska and his staff to be the backbone of the Flames blueline. We still do not know if Noah Hanifin will be traded or not, Oliver Kylington is returning from missing a year of hockey, and Chris Tanev is a year older with a history of injury concerns, so Weegar will have to continue to play the way he finished last season.
The good news is that Weegar spent a lot of time with different partners throughout the year. He was phenomenal on a pair with Chris Tanev, he built some very solid chemistry with Nikita Zadorov, and he showed some fantastic offensive potential on a pair with Rasmus Andersson, he has proved he can play with almost anyone. Which will be crucial depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out.
Weegar can get back to being a 40+ point defenceman, and we know he is going to be stout on the defensive side of things. So the question isn’t can Weegar do it, it should be, how high can he go? And with more minutes surely coming his way, Weegar should be in for a big season, and it should firmly put him back into the conversation as one of the best defencemen in hockey.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire