“Your talent sets your floor. Your character sets your ceiling.” – Bill Belichick
If the NHL decided to set the draft order based on how the standings sit today, the Colorado Avalanche would pick 29th overall. After years of being near the top of the draft, this is a spot where Avalanche fans should get used to picking for the next while. At MHH, we are going to spend time profiling players who might fall in that general area - and a few that might be a stretch, but with how crazy the NHL Draft has become, you never know who will be available. Today, we’ll talk about Kamloops Blazers center Connor Zary.
Zary is a prospect that will likely be off the board before the Avalanche get a chance to pick. Realistically, the Kamloops Blazers center has a strong chance of being the first WHL player to get his name called in the 2020 draft, in large part because he is one of the most complete centers in the class.
The Avalanche can still hold out hope, though, that he might take a little tumble down the draft boards.
Zary spent this last year showing that he can not only play an effective offensive role both at even strength and on the power play, but that he can also lead an effective penalty kill unit. He’s proven to have strengths both when putting points on the board and when defending late game leads by taking defensive zone face-offs. Those traits, to go with a handful of other valuable multi-zone skill sets, make him one of the most complete centers in the 2020 draft.
While age shouldn’t be a big factor in making arguments for or against players in their draft year, though, I will note he has a late birthday and only missed out on last years draft by 10 days.
Zary has played 3 seasons in the WHL already, improving statistically in each of the seasons while taking big steps forward with his development.
In his first campaign he put up 11 goals and 29 points, then took a big leap forward in his second year, putting up 24 goals and 67 points in 63 games. Finally, in the shortened 2019-20 season, he took yet another step forward and posted 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games. Of those 38 goals, 15 came from the PP — but another three were short-handed, giving him goals in all situations. He was also part of the U-18 Canada team last year led by Peyton Krebs and Alex Newhook, where he put up 4 goals and 7 points in 7 games and was a key part of their short handed unit with fellow 2020 draft prospect Branden Schneider.
What We Know
Zary is a very meat and potatoes player, excelling at all the little things that make coaches happy. One thing that has been consistent with Zary dating back to his bantam days is that he improves his game every year. He is always working on the details of his game and you love to see that in a player. A rink rat type hockey player.
Another standout aspect of him is he is a very hard worker, and because of that he tends to elevate the performance of those around him. It’s infectious how hard he works, leading a team with a mix of older players and young household name players. From digging pucks out of the corners and taking a beating in front of the net to blocking shots, he’s always working hard and going full steam ahead to where the puck is. This also has him in a natural leadership role within the team.
His hockey sense is also superb, particularly in the defensive zone. Knocking him off of pucks is very difficult; he uses his body well to protect the pucks and has superior balance and sturdiness on his skates. Reading the play and knowing where the puck will be makes him a very good defender.
While his skating is average, he possesses a quick first step, and his fundamentals stand out. Great balance and footwork make him hard to knock off pucks. He isn’t particularly fast, but it’s not an outright weak area; he keeps up.
Offensively, he is a little more of a playmaker, having great passing ability and a knack for finding open guys from tough areas on the ice. He showed this off during the CHL prospect game, which kind of took me off guard. He definitely isn’t a pass first guy, but with his high hockey IQ knowing when to pass or shoot is a great asset to have.
The Question Marks
While being a very meat and potato type player is a very good thing, it’s tough to tell just how high the ceiling could ultimately be for him. He really doesn’t have an elite standout skill about him; his skating is good but not elite, his skills with the puck are solid but not jaw-dropping, and his shot is average and lacks that one elite shot to make you go wow. He’s just a solid, hardworking player, who will probably go unnoticed a lot of the time. Not disappearing un noticed but nothing will standout. So from that aspect I do wonder how high the ceiling really is. And when you’re projected to be a top 20, having some elite asset in the tool chest is something I would want.
What Others Are Saying
“Connor Zary would be a top-10 pick in a draft that wasn’t so top-heavy. He’s a player that can do everything, combining a high hockey IQ, a great compete level, and the skill to match. He doesn’t really have one standout quality, but it’s his well-rounded game that should make him very successful in the NHL.” – Josh Bell, The Hockey Writers & FC Hockey
“I’ve seen a lot of Zary live in the Kamloops-Kelowna rivalry and he is a gamer! He is a complete player with scoring and playmaking abilities, plus plenty of swagger that helps him rise to the occasion in key situations. Zary will be a quality second-line centre capable of consistently producing 50 points throughout his prime.” – Larry Fisher, The Hockey Writers & FC Hockey
Timeline and fit for Colorado
While center depth is not necessarily a need, adding a hard working, high IQ, high character, defensive center who can win face-offs is something any organization could definitely find room for. He will finish out his WHL career and hopefully crack the Canada WJC along with Newhook. From there I can see him competing for a bottom 6 center or wing role to get his feet wet, but best course for him would be a year in the AHL, to adjust and continue working on his game. After that year, I could see the coaching staff keeping him on the roster and from there he will work his way up from a bottom 6 player to a guy next to Newhook, doing the Landeskog role for his line.
While not possessing an elite trait, there is so much to love about Zary, his game and what he will bring to a team. I believe he will end up been a solid defensive center who can play in all situations, can play up and down the line up and it would not shock me to see a letter on his jersey in the future because players follow this guy into battle.
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