Most junior hockey players enter their second full season in the Canadian Hockey League ready to show everything they have to National Hockey League scouts.
Connor Zary is an exception, as he has a late birthday (in the scouting lexicon), meaning he is born after September 15, the NHL Entry Draft cutoff date.
Zary, in fact, is born September 21, 2001 missing the cutoff for the 2019 Draft by six days and therefore is eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
The Saskatoon, Sask. product is currently ranked 60th in the Western Hockey League with 45 points in 47 games so far this season including 13 goals and 32 assists for the Kamloops Blazers.
With 43 points so far, Zary finds himself leading all WHL 2020 first time draft eligibles and had he been born six days earlier, he would be ninth among 2019 first-time draft eligibles.
Having the extra year to prove yourself to NHL scouts can be both a good and a bad thing. For Zary, he is embracing the opportunity.
“I try not to think about it too much, obviously it’s in the back of my head, I think it’s an advantage for me to have that extra year in the league and an extra summer of training to get ready for my draft year.”
After the Blazers missed the playoffs last season, Zary didn’t use the extra time off for relaxation.
“It was tough not making playoffs last year, but I think that just gave me an extra month and half to get some extra training in…I think that has really translated to my game.”
In June of last year, it was announced that Zary was among 44, 2001-born players invited to Hockey Canada’s Under-18 camp. The young forward was cut from that team and has used it as more motivation.
“It was pretty disappointing at first, but as the summer went on and I got back into training it provided me with a bit more energy and I think it really helped me.”
Missing the playoffs isn’t something the 6-foot, 175-pound forward wants to get used to. Zary’s main focus this year wasn’t improving just his own game, but also getting Kamloops back to the postseason.
“Obviously we really want to push for the playoffs and get that playoff experience, then in the summer it’s all about getting faster and stronger so I’ll be focusing on that. We just have to keep playing how we have been playing. They have all been close, one-goal games or overtime games, if we stick to our structure we will be just fine.”
Moving forward, the Kamloops Blazers have a pretty good young core of players including the likes of other 2020 NHL Draft Eligibles Josh Pillar and Kyrell Sopotyk along with super-rookie and top prospect for the 2021 NHL Draft Logan Stankoven.
Zary has been able to play alongside 15-year-old Stankoven a few times so far this year and the two seem to have a bit of chemistry.
“He plays a good, fast game and he’s really smart especially being so young. Sometimes it’s hard for young guys coming into the league but I think he fit right in.”
Kamloops Blazers Head Coach Serge Lajoie has liked Zary’s season so far.
“He’s been very good, he drives the offensive machine on that line. He’s great at protecting the puck and I love the competitiveness in him,” said Lajoie.
“He pushes himself to be the guy to make the difference…I love his compete, and I love what he’s bringing. He has a bright bright future in front of him.”
Zary is a player that is grabbing the attention of Blazer fans and NHL scouts alike. Whether he is scoring goals, assisting on them or preventing them using his ever-improving defensive play, Zary is sure to find himself the property of an NHL team in 2020.