Depending on how the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery shakes out, our New Jersey Devils could find themselves with anywhere from one to three choices within the first round. The hope for the franchise to successfully rebuild/retool is that the three picks all come this year (rather than having one or two defer to next year) to help right the ship sooner. If the team has three picks to work with, they will need to fill a variety of holes in the prospect system, and while center isn’t a pressing need at the moment, Connor Zary could be an intriguing pick for the Devils should he be the best player available with one of the team’s later selections.
Who is Connor Zary?
Zary was born on September 25, 2001 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He is a left shooting center who stands 6’1” tall and weighed in at 181 pounds when the 2019-20 WHL season began. He began playing in the Saskatchewan Midget system before being drafted by the Kamloops Blazers, his current team, in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
Zary’s rookie season of 2017-18 for Kamloops saw him put up a decent 29 points in 68 games. His sophomore 2018-19 campaign saw him surge to 67 points in 63 games, good for second on the team. This year, before the season’s interruption, he was again second in scoring on the team with 86 points in 57 games; in both seasons, the player he has trailed has been overage center Zane Franklin, so make of that what you will. Full stats for Zary can be found at this link courtesy as usual of Elite Prospects.
Where is Connor Zary Ranked?
Zary isn’t going to be a player who hears his name called too early at the draft, but he should still be finding out which NHL team he will be part of before round one of the draft ends. Gauging by the draft rankings below, it seems probable that he goes in the middle of the round:
HockeyProspect - #16 (January)
ISS - #15 (March)
EliteProspects - #17 (February)
Future Considerations - #13 (March)
McKeen’s Hockey - #9 (Midseason)
Most of the rankings for Zary see him taken in the 13-17 range (with an asterisk by his NHL ranking) with McKeen’s being the one source that is higher on him. The asterisk I mentioned a moment ago is the 15 ranking from NHL.com is only North American skaters; there may be some European skaters and/or North American/European goaltenders taken early depending upon team needs. With that in mind, the other four sources consulted all see to agree that Zary has good enough potential and upside to merit him being a first round choice; however, there are still enough rough aspects to his game that most do not see him being a Top 10 choice.
What Others Say About Connor Zary
Sometimes the best place to start is straight from the source, and in this case that source would be the WHL itself. Robert Murray profiled Zary as a draft prospect back in January, where he had these things to say:
Since entering the league, Zary has consistently raised his game to put himself among the best players on the ice each night. It wasn’t an overnight process, but one that took time to condition for the former Saskatoon Contact.
A key member of the power play and the penalty kill, Zary’s insatiable appetite for the puck has made him a key offensive leader in all three areas of the ice.
While those quotes are taken from different sections of the article, I think they’re helpful in painting a picture as to what can be expected from Zary as a player. The first section implies that he’s a player who is willing to work hard to find success, and isn’t content with settling or just going to expect minutes to be handed to him.
Those characteristics bode positively, as the NHL is a sport where you need to have a strong team; one or two superstars can’t carry a team to a title like they possibly can in other sports. Additionally discussing his offensive leadership and his “appetite for the puck” means we have a player here who won’t quit on a play. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think you can ever have enough players like that in the organization; they push others to be better as well as themselves.
Continuing on, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News had an article about Zary, where he discussed his play after the CHL Top Prospects game:
What Zary does in Kamloops is produce. The top-line center has excellent vision and he processes the game at a high level.
“He wants to be the best, he wants to be a difference-maker,” said Kamloops GM Matt Bardsley. “He’s very aware of what’s going on and he’s a student of the game. He’s really dialled in.”
The only knock on Zary is his skating, but even that’s not bad. He kept up just fine in Hamilton and with a little more strength in his lower body, it won’t even be mentioned.
Here we may have why Zary is projected as a mid round choice: skating. Anytime a player is viewed as an average or weak skater recently, their draft stock falls. This is due to skating being so important in today’s super fast NHL. If Kennedy is right, and skating is Zary’s only “weakness” and it can be improved upon, then Zary could be a steal of a producer from this draft class.
A Little Video
Let’s start today with not only a package of highlights from Zary’s breakout 2018-19 campaign, but also with a very nice shorthanded goal:
Today we also have a longer highlight video with clips from this season; my biggest notice from this package was the shot that Zary possesses. He’s quick, he’s accurate and he makes opponents pay when they give him too much space:
An Opinion of Sorts
As I addresses at the start of this article, center is not a big need for the New Jersey Devils. At the same time, overall talent and scoring are both big needs and Zary checks those two boxes. If the Devils want to be competitive soon, they need to be selecting prospects that have potential to contribute sooner. I think Zary would be a great choice for the Devils; he’s got NHL-ready size, he’s a gifted offensive talent, and he knows the importance of playing in all three zones, as evidenced by his comments in this article the CHL posted.
I would understand Jersey’s Team passing on his as well if they feel there is a prospect with similar potential that fills a position of need for the organization as well. I do think that with all the positive facets of his game that are spoken about, coupled with the few negatives, that Zary could be a strong choice that develops into a long-term NHL contributor. Maybe he won’t be a superstar, but he seems to possess all of the tools to at least be a strong Top 6 contributor for a long time, as long as he’s able to put it all together.
What are your thoughts on Connor Zary as a prospect? Are you encouraged by his strong offensive output the last two seasons? Does the current knock on his skating make you wary of selecting him? Anything else that you like/dislike from what you have seen and/or heard about him? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!