The Calgary Flames tried out Connor Zary at centre on Saturday (and he looked pretty good)

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
On Thursday night, for the first time in his National Hockey League career, Connor Zary was a spectator when the Flames played the Winnipeg Jets. On Saturday night, also for the first time in his NHL career, Zary was a centre when the Flames played the Edmonton Oilers. The Flames lost to the Oilers by a 4-2 score.
According to Flames head coach Ryan Huska, speaking to the media following the game, the move was made more to allow Yegor Sharangovich to fill out Mikael Backlund’s line for head-to-head match-ups with Connor McDavid than to specifically give Zary a run at centre.
“We needed a line that could play against McDavid,” said Huska. “And Sharan has the ability to skate so we decided to put him up there. Connor’s a centreman. He hasn’t played there all year. And after missing a game it was a tough ask of him, but I thought he did a really good job tonight there.”
A product of the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers, Zary was drafted as a centre. Moreover, he was heavily leaned on to take a lot of face-offs – and important face-offs – during his time with the Blazers. Over his four seasons in Kamloops, he was consistently ranked first or second in face-offs taken for his club.
But when he headed to the pro ranks, Zary eventually was slid over to the wing midway through the 2022-23 campaign. The logic behind that was probably part opportunity and part effectiveness: it’s very tough to play centre at the pro level as a young pro because of the physical demands of the position, and at the time the Flames boasted a depth chart that had the likes of Nazem Kadri, Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund ahead of him… so it kind of made sense to give him some options.
During the first 56 games of his NHL career with the Flames, Zary was exclusively a left wing, playing primarily with Martin Pospisil and Kadri. That trio has emerged as one of the most effective lines for the Flames and, through his first 56 outings, Zary had 21 goals, 30 points and a plus-12 rating on the left side.
On Saturday, Zary’s first experience at centre in the NHL was largely a positive one. Playing primarily between Jonathan Huberdeau and Dryden Hunt, Zary went five-for-15 at the face-off dot and the Flames out-shot Edmonton by a 10-5 margin with Zary on the ice at even strength. The Flames used Zary primarily against Ryan McLeod’s line for much of the night.
“I don’t think we played one shift in our zone,” said Huberdeau. “It was a fun game, I think, to play in the offensive zone. We made some plays. We had some opportunity. We gotta capitalize, obviously. But Zars was good. I think he was in the middle, keeping the puck, making some plays. And Huntsy as well, battling in the corner, getting guys to him, and making time for the other guys.”
Huska didn’t commit to keeping Zary at centre for the remainder of the season, but acknowledged that he’s an option. With Elias Lindholm no longer with the organization, there’s seemingly a top nine centre slot available for somebody – whether it’s Zary or Sharangovich or somebody else – to try to grab hold of.
Speaking at Winsport last week, Zary discussed the possibility of playing centre at the NHL at some point in the future – while acknowledging that he hadn’t done it yet and there are differences between that position and the wing.
“It’s definitely something I’m comfortable with and like playing,” said Zary. “But I also have found a nice home on the left side, and I like playing there as well. To me it’s all about just feeling good with where you’re at and what you’re playing and doing whatever’s needed.”
The Flames are back in action on Tuesday when they visit the San Jose Sharks.
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