Connor Zary looked strong in pre-season and that continues with the Calgary Wranglers

Photo credit:Terence Leung/Calgary Wranglers
Jeff Middleton
6 months ago
Plenty of performances from the pre-season made Calgary Flames fans optimistic about the potential options for the lineup in 2023-24. Although we only saw Matt Coronato make the big jump, there is lots of time left in the season to give some newbies a shot at the roster.
Connor Zary was one player who stood out over the preseason and a player who really needed it, too.
In 2022-23 with the Calgary Wranglers in the AHL, he played 72 games and scored a total of 58 points, an improvement on his 25 points in 53 games in 2021-22. Not only did he make a big jump in his scoring, but he also made a solid jump in his two-way play. Playing big-time centre minutes for the Wranglers, there was a clear improvement in Zary’s defensive game and physicality. He’s still working on that with the Wranglers this season, but his maturation on and off the ice has helped him to become an even more formidable player.
The biggest place that Zary has made an impact with the Wranglers is on special teams. His shot from the left-side circle on the power play is lethal, and he’s not afraid to create room for it either, which also helps open up other options for him to use his underrated playmaking ability.
The playmaking ability is a facet of Zary’s game that I’ll be talking about mostly in this article, considering his performance in the first handful of games in the AHL in 2023-24. Another improvement in scoring was expected for the 22-year-old Zary, but so far, he has exceeded plenty of expectations. In four games so far this season, he has registered a total of eight assists to go along with no goals, which was a shock when first sifting through his Elite Prospects page.
Here’s a good example of the kind of impact Zary can have on the power play. The puck finds its way through the middle of the ice after a Wranglers player whiffs, and immediately he rips it on the net. The puck squirts out of the goalie’s pads to Adam Klapka, another player who had a fantastic preseason, and he scores:
Now, there have been a couple of assists that have been a little lucky, or rather, a teammate has done the work, and this is one of them. Zary uses his skating to open space and tries throwing it on net. However, he falls over, and the puck slides on the ice off a defender’s skate and right to Ben Jones.
There are some good things to take out of that play (like using his skating), but it’s hard to ignore the fact that luck was on Zary’s side in this instance. Of course, a little bit of puck luck never hurt anybody, and those kind of bounces weren’t anything that he was getting much of last year and the Flames as an NHL team didn’t get last season and haven’t been getting so far this season.
A strong year in the box score from Zary could be an even bigger confidence booster for the young forward, and if things continue to not go well up in the NHL, I think it would be worth their time to see what he can do at the NHL level. Even though it has taken a little longer than maybe some have wanted it to, the improvement in two-way play and the scoring (even though some of it was a little lucky) is a great sign moving forward.

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