The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is coming up, and this year’s draft class has the potential to be one of the best in recent memory. For the next month, we will be profiling each of the top prospects available in the draft — many of whom could be candidates to be selected by the Minnesota Wild. Follow along as we dive deep into the strengths and weaknesses of each notable player eligible to be drafted this June.
The top 10 prospects in this year’s draft all seem to have one thing in common, and that is at least one standout and very high-end skill that sets them apart from all the other prospects available in the draft.
While it is great to be able to select that caliber of a player, as they hold the abilities to produce and play at a high level, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find players outside of that first tier that can be valuable to an NHL franchise. Perhaps they won’t score and produce offense at a high-level, but they can provide a well-rounded offensive, defensive, and special team’s game that allows them to make an impact up and down a lineup — something that is very valuable in today’s NHL. Connor Zary is a perfect example of that.
Zary is one of the older players in the 2020 NHL Draft, so 2019-20 was actually already his third full season in the Western Hockey League. And after having a very good season in 2018-19 for the Kamloops Blazers, in which he recorded 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) in 63 games, Zary burst onto the scene in 2019-20 with 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games played, ranking fifth in the league points, goals, and points-per-game. Zary wasn’t really thought of as one of the very top prospects available in 2020 at the beginning of the season, and while there are still valid concerns over his age and upside, his breakout season offensively in the WHL, combined with his versatility as a player and ability to effectively play the center position, have caused him to rise up draft boards to the point where he seems to be a surefire top 20 pick in the draft.
2019-20 season review
When you look at what Zary has done in the WHL over the past three years for the Blazers, the main thing that sticks out is his consistent and significant improvement each season. He went from 29 points in his rookie season to 67 points in 2018-19, and then up to 86 points in just 57 games in 2019-20.
While Zary has always been known as a solid two-player throughout the last couple of seasons, his 86 points in the WHL this season helped to show that he has a bit more offensive punch then previously thought. And though he still doesn’t have one particular offensive trait that really jumps out, it’s a nice complement to his already strong hockey IQ and defensive game, which allowed him to be such a versatile player for Kamloops, helping raise his draft stock significantly.
Obviously, the main strengths to Zary’s game that stand out are his versatility, as well as his strong hockey IQ and compete level, which are all things that have allowed him to keep growing his offensive game (even if it’s still not the most dynamic you’ll ever see).
The one part about his game that doesn’t get talked about enough, however, is his ability to control the puck and do it at a high pace. Watch the following play from earlier this season in the clip below. After taking control of a bouncing puck near the blue line, Zary not only corrals it, but he makes a move around the opposing player and cuts to the slot, where he then proceeds to make another nice move around a defender to put himself into a prime scoring area.
13) C Connor Zary— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) April 25, 2020
Human highlight reel who has the puck on a string. He's fairly strong, sees the ice well, and sets up tap-in goals.
He's older, but was good against his own age group at the U18.
Needs to get one step faster to have 2C upside. If he does, he'll be a steal. pic.twitter.com/bVasIgB382
As you can see on this next goal, his ability to get to scoring areas and get an accurate shot off isn’t too bad either.
Zary’s puck possession skills and hockey IQ also allow him to have good playmaking abilities, as you can see on this nice saucer pass he makes to a teammate through traffic.
When talking about prospects, specifically their weaknesses, it seems like every player typically has a specific part of their game that could use some improvement. With Zary, however, it’s a bit different. He is very solid in just about every area of the game — offense, defense, power play, and penalty kill. You name it, and Zary is likely at least passable in that area. And it is that well-rounded game combined with his versatility that give him the chance to be a very good NHL player once he develops.
Connor Zary is a very good prospect who, while not having one particular trait to his game that stands out above the rest, has a very well-rounded two-way game that allows him to be an extremely versatile player at the center position. While there are some valid concerns over his age and potential upside for a player who could be a top-15 pick, the fact that he is a center — something the Wild desperately need — along with his versatile game make him a good option if Minnesota does end up picking at No. 11 or 12 overall.