2019-20 Team: Kamloops Blazers
Date of Birth: Sept. 25, 2001
Place of Birth: Saskatoon, SK
Ht: 6-foot-0 Wt: 181 lbs.
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2020 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 12th (among NA skaters)
- Bob McKenzie, TSN: 17th
- Craig Button, TSN: 10th
- HockeyProspects.com: 16th
- ISS: 15th
- McKeen’s Hockey: 9th
- Future Considerations: 13th
- Andrew Forbes (The Hockey Writers): 13th
- Josh Bell (The Hockey Writers): 14th
- Larry Fisher (The Hockey Writers): 16th
The Western Hockey League won’t have the same presence at the 2020 Entry Draft that it boasted in 2019. Last year, three players from the league went in the top-10: Kirby Dach went third overall, Bowen Byram went fourth, and Dylan Cozens went seventh. Four more went in the first round and five were selected in the second round, making it one of the better showings for the league in recent memory.
This year, it’s unlikely that any WHL player is taken in the top 10, something that has happened only twice in its history. However, Connor Zary is making a strong case to break into the top group in 2020. Last season, he scored 42 of his 67 points in the last three months of the season, which was the 12th highest point-production in the second half and was on par with the league-leading scorer. This season, he’s continued to gain momentum, scoring 38 goals and 86 points over 57 games, placing him first among draft-eligible players and fifth in WHL scoring.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Boosting his strong offensive instincts is Zary’s hockey IQ and work ethic. It’s helped him develop into a prospect with no real weaknesses to his game. He often plays in high-danger situations, using his playmaking abilities to set up easy goals with perfect passes, or digging out his own rebound to pop it into the net. He also possesses a strong defensive game, making him an effective two-way player and a mainstay on the Blazers’ penalty kill. He’s modeled his style after Bo Horvat and become one of the most balanced players in the WHL in 2019-20.
There is some concern that his age may be boosting his stats, though. Zary missed the 2019 draft by just 10 days and thus is one of the oldest first-year eligible players in 2020. An additional season in junior can go a long way, giving him a potentially unfair advantage compared to his peers. Age is especially important in the Canadian Hockey Leagues like the WHL, and 19- and 20-year-old players are expected to lead their teams, whether in ice time, points, or another aspect. Seeing Zary perform better than other draft-eligible players, like Seth Jarvis, is somewhat expected.
Another criticism is he seems to be more of a safer pick without a real defining feature. There’s no questioning that Zary is a smart hockey player, always available to jump on the play or get back on defense, but there is not really one aspect that jumps out at scouts. He will likely never be a premier scoring option for an NHL team, and could fit in anywhere on the top-three lines. When compared with a high-risk/high-reward like Noel Gunler or Mavrik Bourque, some teams may opt for the more interesting player, causing Zary to slip in the draft.
Finally, others have looked to his skating as an aspect that could hurt his draft stock, but it’s unlikely it causes any real drop. He still possesses above-average speed with a powerful, albeit choppy stride, and kept up with other top prospects at the CHL Top Prospects Game in January. As mentioned before, he has an incredible work ethic that one former coach referred to as “infectious”, and young players have shown that once they gain a bit more strength in their lower body, the issue will likely be never mentioned again.
Other THW Profiles
Connor Zary – NHL Draft Projection
Despite the concerns over age and upside, Zary has been slowly climbing up the draft rankings, starting the season in the mid-to-low-20’s and making his way just outside the top-10. With the 2020 Draft being hailed as one of the deepest in years, it seems unlikely that he cracks to the uppermost echelon, but he won’t remain on the outside looking in for long. I’d place him in the 15-20 range, but wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken just outside the top-10, as he provides stability to a team in need of a reliable two-way forward.
“A puck-possession pivot who clicked above a point-per-game last season. Great speed, deft puck skills, and equally dangerous with the shot and pass. An elder statesman.” – Cam Robinson, Dobber Prospects
“A physical 200-foot forward who is a threat to score at any point in the game, Zary was a standout for Team Canada at the under-18 world championship, where he impacted shifts with hard-nosed play, impeccable positioning and strength on the puck. Like Sourdif, Zary was a key component in his team’s playoff run. He led all WHL 2020 draft eligibles in scoring with 67 points in 63 games.” – Steve Kournianos, The Sporting News
“Dub centre with character, skill and high compete level. Slick stick handling pivot who sees the plays developing before the have come to fruition. He has excellent offensive instincts. His feet and hands play fast in unison. A one touch passer. Smart playmaker who will link together passing plays with good touch, and skates up closer to his linemates to shorten the length of passes, then flies to an open area to receive a return pass. Draws the opposition out of their areas and his linemates gain scoring areas as a result. Strong 200 foot player. Will gain the leg strength that is missing. Certainly drives the play for his team with his present abilities, and may reach the 100 point plateau this season.” Bill Placzek, DraftSite
- Puck Control/Possession
- Hockey IQ
- Compete Level
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- No standout skill
It’s unlikely Zary becomes a star in the NHL, despite having led the WHL in scoring at times during this season. Still, he has all the tools to succeed in the NHL and projects to be a reliable first-line center on the right team or a very good second-line center and could be that one missing piece a team needs to make a long playoff run.
Look at Jordan Staal’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins, or Horvat’s current role with the Vancouver Canucks. Neither are the brightest stars on the team but put them into a position to win every night by doing their jobs incredibly well. I see Zary filling that role in the NHL.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 3/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense – 7/10, Defense – 7/10
Zary represented Team Saskatchewan at the Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup in 2016-17, scoring a goal and an assist. In 2018-19, he was selected to the Canadian U-18 World Junior team, where he scored four goals and seven points but wasn’t able to help Canada claim a medal, finishing fourth behind the United States. He was also selected to the WHL All-Star team this past November at the CHL Canada/Russia series and helped the CHL capture the series in the final game over the Russians.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.