The Calgary Flames have struggled to start the 2023–24 season. By the time October had ended, their record was an awful 2–6–1. On Halloween, the Flames recalled a player from the AHL, that player was Connor Zary. Since his recall, the Flames have had a record of 3–2–1, bringing their overall record to 5–8–2. A big part of the solid success the team has had in November has been Connor Zary.
Zary’s production so far
Zary’s first NHL game came against the Dallas Stars on November 1, the day after he was called up from the Calgary Wranglers. It didn’t take long for Zary to find himself on the board.
Just 5 minutes and 28 seconds into his debut, Zary found himself behind the Stars defence and Jake Oettinger, Chris Tanev’s point shot trickled past Oettinger and Zary finished it, opening the scoring to the game and to his NHL career.
Zary’s production continued picking up points against the Seattle Kraken, Nashville Predators, and Toronto Maple Leafs to go on a four-game point streak. That point streak ended after he went pointless in a 4–1 loss against the Ottawa Senators.
Zary made up for the pointless game though. On Tuesday, Zary had his first career multi-point game against the Montreal Canadiens. He recorded a primary assist on Nazem Kadri’s opening goal and scored the game-winning goal himself. Zary currently sits with six points in six games. His points are perfectly split with three goals and three assists. Despite playing nine fewer games, Zary is tied for fourth in team scoring and has the best point per game of any Flame.
A look at Zary’s numbers
Here are Zary’s advanced stats via NaturalStatTrick.com at 5v5 score- and venue-adjusted.
These numbers continue to tell the story that Zary has been great for the Flames so far. Any percent above 50 is considered good and Zary is above 50% in every stat. When looking at where he places amongst the forwards currently on the Flames roster, Zary places in the top five in all categories. Fifth place in CF% and xG%, fourth in SCF%, and second (only behind Adam Ruzicka) in HDCF%. All solid numbers.
His PDO is somewhat misleading. 1.003 says that he has been slightly lucky and while that’s true, you need to break it down to see the whole picture. His on-ice shooting percentage sits at 16.52% which is really high and above the average while his on-ice save percentage sits 83.78% which is really low and below the average.
The 0.003 above the 1.000 average indicates his luckiness in shooting marginally outweighs the goalies’ performance when he’s on the ice. So, realistically, Zary’s production should unfortunately regress, that’s not to say he’ll stop scoring, just not at the current point-per-game pace.
Everyone rooting for Zary hopes that he outperforms the model and keeps his production going despite this.
Using a model for a deeper dive on Zary
Now we’ll look at Zary’s isolated impact chart via HockeyViz.com. Zary’s impact has been super impressive. We’ll start by looking at the offensive end where Zary has been outstanding.
His +10% rating puts him up there with some of the best offensive generators in the league. Most of his offence is being generated and produced from the most dangerous areas of the ice, both ends of the slot and around the net.
Moving to the defensive, Zary has also been great. His score of -4% puts him well above average in defensive results so far. There’s no area that really stands out unlike in the offensive end, but it seems there has been a lack of opposing offence in the slot with Zary.
His sG score (similar to the WAR stat) currently sits at +6.8. A majority of that score comes from his offensive impact which garners a +4.4 score on its own.
With and Without Zary
The Flames offence and defence with Zary so far have been quite good. We’ll find with Zary on the top and without on the bottom. With Zary, the Flames have a +5 score at offence with an xGF/60 of 2.78. When looking at where most of the offence is generated, it matches his isolated impact chart, in the slot and around the net. Those seem to be the areas where the Flames struggle without Zary.
Overall, without him, the score drops to a -3% and an xGF/60 of 2.57. In the defensive end, the Flames generate a score of -15% which is very very good. They also only allow 2.25 xGA/60. Without him, the Flames are around league average, with a +0% rating and an xGA/60 of 2.64. We should be cautious of a small sample size, which is why there are so many deep-coloured areas at both ends of the ice, but this is quite good anyway.
Helping elevate a veteran
One thing that has stood out since Zary joined the Flames, is that it seems his linemates have taken a step forward, specifically Nazem Kadri. Starting off with the basic stats, Kadri scored a total of two points in nine games in the month of October. This tied him for the least amount of points on the team. Then Zary gets plugged into the lineup and Kadri goes from two in nine to seven points in six games, over triple the production three fewer games.
Moving on to the underlying numbers, again from NaturalStatTrick at 5v5 and score- and venue-adjusted pre-Zary, Kadri’s numbers looked like:
and since Zary, they look like this:
Every single stat improved drastically since Zary was put on Kadri’s wing. The highest change in percent is +10.6% in xG% and the lowest is +4.13% in CF%, which is still a distinct change. These numbers strongly match the highly agreed upon eye test that Kadri has played way better since Zary joined the team.
It’s not to say that Zary is fully the reason Kadri has improved—there are a handful of other factors—but Zary seems to be a larger part.
A bright spot in a so far disappointing season
Many were calling for Zary to be re-called and join the Flames, but I don’t think anyone was expecting the immediate impact he has given the team. He sits high in team scoring despite joining the team late and is the Flames’ only point-per-game player. He has also helped one of the Flames’ top players improve on his season. No matter where you look or what you watch, you receive the same story, Connor Zary has been amazing.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire