The 2020 NHL Draft will be October 6 & 7, conducted remotely. The Calgary Flames have a first round selection and will pick 19th overall. In advance of the draft, we’ll be looking at some contenders to be selected at 19th.
Today, we’re taking a look at a high-scoring, left-handed centre from the Kamloops Blazers: Connor Zary.
Zary is a prairie boy from Saskatoon with NHL-ready size. At 6′ even and 180 pounds, Zary has the frame of a prototypical skilled number-one centre. And that’s exactly what he was for a very good Blazers team in 2019–20, as the pivot of an excellent top unit with overage playmaker Zane Franklin and finisher Orrin Centazzo.
But Zary isn’t just a great scorer. In his draft year, he was already one of the most trusted presences on Kamloops’ tremendous penalty kill, which ranked third in the WHL this year. His three shorthanded goals in 2019–20 ranked second-most in the Dub.
Here’s a rundown on Zary’s defensive and character attributes from Dave Stevenson of Puck Prose:
Going into this season, I had some questions about Zary’s defense. He shut me up by emerging as one of the WHL’s best penalty killers. It’s clear Zary made it a point to work on his defense and this makes him one of the most well-rounded centers in the draft. […] He’s also a very hard worker. You can’t teach character and Zary has it in bunches. It’s hard for me to give much credence to intangibles because they’re not measurable, but Zary’s intangibles are outstanding. He’s a great leader and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a future alternate captain or captain.
A top-notch competitor with a nose for the net, Zary was the heart and soul of an improved Kamloops team that improved significantly from last season. He’s an intelligent two-way center who provides support in a variety of ways, including subtle touch or bank passes in the defensive zone that leads to swift breakouts. Playmaking is just one of his distinguishable assets, as he can deliver precision passes from either his forehand or backhand. Strong and well-balanced, Zary displays deceptive quickness and requires only two or three strides to accelerate to top speed and become an open-ice threat.
Zary is a jack-of-all-trades player who is more than willing to contribute at both ends of the ice. While he doesn’t have a particular standout attribute, he has generated a lot of interest as one of the most complete players in the draft.
(Plus, his number 18 is available here in Calgary.)
Zary finished fifth in WHL scoring in 2019–20 with 86 points in 57 games, trailing only Portland’s Seth Jarvis in points by a first-time eligible prospect from the league. He finished in a tie for fifth in the league with 38 goals alongside Buffalo blue-chipper Dylan Cozens. Once again, only Jarvis had more.
Zary dominated on both special teams this year. He led all draft-eligible WHLers with 15 power play goals, 23 power play assists, and three shorthanded goals.
One more number? 18. That’s how old Zary was for all of 2019–20, as one of the oldest players eligible for the 2020 draft. His September 25, 2001 birthday put him just 10 days after the cutoff for the 2019 class.
Availability and fit
The Flames have a ton of left-handed forwards, but they’re always looking for more skilled, responsible centres. Mikael Backlund is still going strong as the Flames’ shutdown centre, but he’s beginning to reach the ages where most players decline. Zary could be a more offensive successor. The Flames haven’t drafted a centre in the first round since Sam Bennett in 2014.
Will Zary be available at 19th overall? There’s no real consensus opinion. Both Bob McKenzie and Dobber Prospects have Zary ranked 22nd. But Craig Button has him all the way up at 11th, ISS has him 15th, and FC Hockey has him 17th. McKeen’s has him ranked closest to the Flames’ position, at 18th.