Despite the Montreal Canadiens locked into pick number 16 in the upcoming NHL Draft, the options for players are plentiful. One of the more intriguing pieces available is Kamloops forward Connor Zary, a centre with high offensive instincts who is typically ranked in the latter half of the first round.
With 38 goals in a COVID-19-shortened WHL season, Zary was one of the league’s best offensive producers, and could be a high-end option for the Canadiens when they approach the virtual podium in October.
Birthplace: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Date of Birth: September 25, 2001
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
The Canadiens are a team in need of some true scoring talent in the pipeline right now, and Zary fits that profile and then some. Cole Caufield is an elite finisher, but beyond him there isn’t much. Adding Zary would be a huge boost for the prospect pool.
He can score, he can set up teammates, and he can do it on a regular basis, and that’s something the Habs currently lack. Zary finished fifth in the WHL in scoring, behind a few older players and fellow 2020 draft-eligible forward Seth Jarvis. That’s good company, and something the Canadiens should be paying close attention to when deciding on their choice in the first round.
When you look at what makes Zary so appealing it doesn’t take long to figure it out: The Kamloops centre generates offence in his sleep. It isn’t just goal-scoring or playmaking, but a true dual-threat attack. His hands allow him to adapt to any situation and factor into a fantastic release that bewilders opposing goalies.
Chief among his talents is his wrist shot. His hands are soft enough to easily receive a pass and turn it immediately into a well-placed shot. What makes it even more dangerous is that he doesn’t rely on just releasing the puck, but changes his angles of release and can find the back of the net even at odd angles around the offensive zone. His ability to get into soft ice and use his shot in a variety of situations makes him a dynamic threat that any team would be lucky to add to its offensive attack.
Not only can Zary use his soft hands to deceive opposing goaltenders, but they allow him to chip in on the playmaking front as well. While not nearly as strong as his shooting talents, racking up 48 assists in a draft year is no small feat and shows that he can be a more than adequate contributor. His deception allows him to receive passes and dish them out after drawing the coverage to himself.
Scouts have also noted that he is a highly competitive player, willing to get into the high-danger areas and create chances. Already a solidly built player, he’s only going to add more muscle that will leverage his size for gaining better positions in attacking areas.
Zary rates highly in offensive categories across the board, but is held back from being a potential top-10 pick by one major factor: his skating. It’s not putting a professional career-in jeopardy, but skating issues may prevent him from becoming a full-fledged NHL centre. He’d may need to shift to the wing in the professional ranks if his skating hinders him from creating real separation on the ice.
He can be a good playmaker, but he tends to sit back and opt to work as the trigger man on a given play. He is rarely the one leading plays into the offensive zone, often letting his linemates carry it in and following them as a trailer. It’s not a bad thing that he is aware of his limits and opts for the smarter play, but with a first-round pick it becomes worrying that he isn’t the one driving the offence at the Junior level.
Elite Prospects: #25
Future Considerations: #17
Hockey Prospect: #20
Bob McKenzie/TSN: #22
NHL Central Scouting: #15 (NA Skaters)
When breaking down his potential, it comes down to two traits: his offensive production and his skating limitations. When it comes to generating shots and goals, he is among the best in the draft, and that makes him highly appealing to a team like the Canadiens who are in need of that type of player. In the same vein, drafting Zary hoping to have a centre at the professional level may be expecting too much. He is likely to be available at 16th overall, and if the drafting team can get someone to help him work on his skating he could be a tremendous asset.
At the end of the day, Connor Zary is an elite offensive producer, something that Montreal lacks in its prospect pool. Skating can be worked on as a player’s career progresses, and if he is indeed the pick on October 6, Montreal is getting a fantastic attacking player.