Devils Draft Series: Connor Zary, WHL’s Fifth-Leading Scorer

Connor Zary tallied a hefty amount of points in the WHL this season. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Profile

Connor Zary is 18 years old with a September birth-month. If he was born just a month or so later, he would have been eligible for the 2019 draft. So he is one of the oldest prospects eligible for this class. He is a native of Canada and is listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds. The left-handed centerman has played all of his junior hockey in Canada, most recently for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. In the final North American 2020 NHL Prospect Rankings list, he came in at 15th after being ranked 12th in the midterm rankings

The Statistics

Zary started his junior career as a 13-year-old in the Saskatchewan AA Hockey League. He spent two seasons in the league, tallying a total of 119 points (66 goals, 53 assists) across only 59 games. This 2.02 points-per-game average ranks 83rd all-time in the league (out of 2,622 players). He moved onto the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League for parts of two seasons, playing in a total of 43 games and compiling 47 points (29 goals, 18 assists). 

He made his WHL debut in the 2017-18 season, producing only 29 points in 68 games. His draft minus-one season was an improvement but not overall impressive, as he had 67 points in 63 games. The latest season is where Zary took a step, thanks in large part to ample ice time and a stellar scoring team. His 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games were second-highest on his team and fifth-most in the WHL. As was mentioned, this number was inflated slightly by playing on the WHL’s highest-scoring team, as well as being reliant on power play points, as he led his team in this area. 

Zary does not have a ton of international experience, but he did partake in the U-18 World Junior Championships in the 2018-19 season. He was stellar in this tournament and caught the eyes of many. In seven games, he tallied four goals and three assists along with a plus-five rating. 

Zary’s Scouting Report

Strengths

Zary has an all-around game. He does a lot of things well, but nothing specifically spectacular. One of his main assets is his stickhandling. He also is a pretty strong player, which helps him excel in puck protection, as he is extremely hard to take the puck away from. 

Defensively is another area where Zary performs well. This in large part due to a good hockey-IQ, as well as defensive awareness. His size and strength also play a part at this end of the ice, as he uses this in creating takeaways and turnovers. 

Overall, Zary has a solid two-way game and is an extremely determined player. Coaches will love him due to his unrelenting motor and high work ethic. His versatility is also a strength, as he can play on both the power play and penalty kill. 

Weaknesses

As mentioned, Zary does a lot of things well, but nothing specific stands out. Areas of his game that need improvement are his skating, as his stride is a little awkward and he lacks explosion in his first step. He is not someone that can beat an opposing player with his speed, rather he has to rely on his stickhandling. 

Although a lofty point total, his playmaking is an area that can be improved. Watching his film, he is not all that aggressive and he does not create a whole lot for his teammates. His passing is also an area of concern, as he seems to miss a decent amount of “easy passes.” 

His production was over-reliant on easy power play points, as well as being a benefactor of a team that was the WHL’s highest-scoring. Overall, his numbers may have been a bit inflated due to this reason and also since he is old for his class.

Projection

Zary does not have all that high of a ceiling. For me, he tops out as a possible second-line center with the versatility to play both penalty kill and power play minutes. Though a third line checking role is probably the more reasonable projection. 

Like his counterpart Anton Lundell, with Zary, you know what you’re getting. There is not a whole lot of risk in selecting him, but there won’t be a lot of hidden reward as with some of the other options in this area of the rankings. Expect Zary to go in the middle part of the first round, somewhere in between picks 16-19. 

Fit With the Devils

The only position where Zary should be a consideration for the Devils is with the team’s final pick of the first round — this being around the 17th selection. Given the Devils have three different first-round picks, with this last pick I would prefer the team to be more aggressive.

As the theme has gone with Zary, he does not have a high ceiling. With the team’s last pick in the first round, the Devils should pursue different avenues and select a player with more upside. Say someone like a Seth Jarvis, Dawson Mercer, or a player that was projected higher who falls to the team in this space. Unless Zary is far and beyond the best player available in this spot, the Devils should look elsewhere.

Ranking of Evaluated Prospects

1. Alexis Lafrenière (no profile will be released)

2. Tim Stützle (05/07/2020)

3. Quinton Byfield (05/08/2020)

4. Marco Rossi (04/30/2020)

5. Jamie Drysdale (05/01/2020)

6. Lucas Raymond (04/28/2020)

7. Alexander Holtz (04/29/2020)

8. Cole Perfetti (05/05/2020)

9. Anton Lundell (05/11/2020)

10. Yaroslav Askarov (05/05/2020)

11. Seth Jarvis (05/13/2020)

12. Jake Sanderson (05/04/2020)

13. Rodion Amirov (05/12/2020)

14. Jack Quinn (05/09/2020)

15. Dylan Holloway (05/14/2020)

16. Connor Zary (Today)

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