In another edition of the C of Red Prospects Corner, I will be taking a look at the Calgary Flames most recent first round selection – Connor Zary, who the team took with the 24th selection in the 2020 NHL Draft.
We all know the story, the Flames held the 19th overall pick in the draft, but traded back twice in deals that saw the 19th pick go to the New York Rangers in exchange for the 22nd and 72nd picks in the draft which the Flames then subsequently traded the 22nd pick to Washington for their 24th and 80th picks. The Flames then used their first rounded to select Zary out of the Kamloops Blazers organization in the Western Hockey League. The Flames then used the 72nd pick on Jeremie Poirier, a very skilled offensive defenceman from the Saint John Sea Dogs and fellow defenceman Jake Boltmann from the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. Very tidy work by Calgary General Manager Brad Treliving.
But the prize selection of course was Zary, even if they stood pat, by all indications they would have selected him at 19. The fact the team was able to get the player they wanted in round one plus be able to grab a pair of third rounders was seen as a total win from the Flames management and their fans. Zary has been an impact player in the WHL since he joined as a 16-year-old rookie. He has tallied 182 points in 188 career games with the Blazers, his best season came in his draft year, registering 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games while helping Kamloops to a 41-18-4 record and a B.C. Division crown before COVID-19 ended their season.
He might have been one of most well-rounded players selected in the draft. Per Sam Happi of DraftGeek.ca “His overall profile is about as all-around as they come, with no notable weaknesses. Zary is a capable skater (above-average, but not a massive speedster), a talented puckhandler with tons of ability in one-on-one situations, and impressive dual-threat capacity as both a scorer and a distributor.”
While skating isn’t necessarily one of Zary’s strengths, it’s also not a weakness. He doesn’t struggle to keep up with the play and has good separation speed, which allows him to create space for himself, especially off the rush. He also has a very powerful first step, which allows him to generate momentum in all three zones. According to EliteProspects.com “It's Zary's shot that leads the way. He's a deceptive triggerman, one with excellent shot placement, a deceptive release, and the ability to fire two-touch missiles on a moment's notice. His ability to collect difficult passes is a real difference-maker. He doesn't often break stride to receive passes either, maintaining the pace of his team's attack.”
From Byron Baders Hockey Prospecting Model, Zary has the 11th highest probability of reaching his "star" description. While his model isn't always correct it is encouraging to see the Flames take a guy with star potential that late in the first round.
“All in all, there’s plenty to like about Zary’s game. When evaluators see a player with the well-roundedness of Zary, they tend to assume that he lacks high-end skill in any particular area. That couldn’t be further from the case: Zary is an excellent puckhandler, a deft playmaker, and a talented scorer. Nothing about his profile in those three areas is average” (Happi).
All of these things have been on display so far this season, as Zary has began the year with the Stockton Heat where he has registered three goals and seven points in eight games while playing on a line with Matthew Phillips and Adam Ruzicka, a trio that has combined for 30 points in eight games and are torching opponents on a nightly basis. We also saw glimpses of potential from Zary at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championships where he only registered two assists in seven games, he was creating offence in a very limited role that saw him as the team’s 13th forward most nights.
Below are some clips from Taranjot's twitter, that showcase Zary's nose for the net and playmaking ability!
Zary will return to Kamloops ahead of the team’s March 26th season opener against the Vancouver Giants as per the NHL/CHL agreement but the glimpses we’ve seen from him with Stockton should have Flames fans optimistic for the future ahead. In my opinion Zary should develop into a top nine forward, and while he won’t be a number one scoring option for the Flames, he should be able to produce at the NHL level.