Montreal has shored up their depth chart on defence and goaltending in recent years. With the emergence of Nick Suzuki and jesperi Kotkaniemi during this season’s playoffs, their depth at centre at the pro level is looking much better. What the Habs could use is a game-breaking scorer for their top six, and Connor Zary could give them what they need.
Weight: 181 lbs
CSB (North American): 15
Elite Prospects: 25
McKeen’s Hockey: 18
Hockey Prospectus: 20
Future Considerations: 17
The Hockey News: 20
TSN (Button): 11
TSN (McKenzie): 14
The Athletic (Pronman): 19
Connor had an impressive offensive season, finishing fifth overall in league scoring. That was the second-highest total among draft-eligible WHL players (Seth Jarvis was first). Zary’s straight skating and acceleration are average due to a hitch in his stride, but he is good with his edges to throw deception into his moves to keep defenders guessing. Perhaps extra time spent with a skating coach could help him improve that area of his game. He has a low centre of gravity which makes him difficult to knock off the puck. His hockey sense is one of his best attributes, and among the top five players in this draft.
Like most high-end junior forwards, Zary’s coaches have pencilled into the lineup as a centre instead of a winger. You can argue that he would make an effective winger or a centre as a pro hockey player. His playmaking, stick handling and passing abilities are excellent, which could make one lean towards thinking of Zary as a centre. His faceoff winning percentage was 50.5% and he showed continuous improvement with it over his three seasons in Kamloops. When it comes to scoring, Zary had the fifth-most goals in the league (38) and took the fifth-most shots (257). His shot is already pro level, as he can score in various ways with his snap shot, wrist shot or one-timer. He’s equally good at receiving a pass wherever it’s sent to him and uses that to quickly release a shot on goal. These qualities are what may make an NHL team decide to move him to the wing. He plays within his skating limitation and as such prefers to be a trailer on the transition to offence instead of the puck carrier.
Consistency is a hallmark of his game, as he failed to register at least a point in only nine games during his fifty-seven game season. He managed to mark at least one shot on goal in all but one of his games. His defensive game is excellent, and he was used in penalty killing situations. This gave him extra scoring opportunities, as he produced three shorthanded goals, which was one off of the league leader. Connor has a good-sized frame to play at the pro level but could use a little more time to improve his strength.
Connor was a late birthday for this draft, missing eligibility for the previous one by ten days. That makes him more mature than some others in this draft. Since Zary completed his third junior season, CHL rules state he’s only required to play one more season before being allowed to turn pro. The team that drafts him may consider him a more attractive prospect as a result. I predict he has the potential to crack an NHL lineup for the 2021-22 season.