Vancouver Sun

Blazers cen­tre aims to cap break­through sea­son at NHL Draft

- STEVE EWEN

Tues­day's NHL en­try draft will be a hat trick of a dif­fer­ent sort for Kamloops Blazers cen­tre Con­nor Zary and other pro­jected firstround picks.

Due to the novel coro­n­avirus out­break, the draft will be held via video con­fer­enc­ing. With that, the tra­di­tion of a player com­ing to the stage and pulling on his new club's sweater while flanked by var­i­ous team staff is on hold. In its place, the NHL is send­ing play­ers ex­pected to go in that open­ing round — like Zary — baseball caps from all 31 teams.

“They want you to have some­thing to throw on when you get drafted,” said Zary, who con­firmed Satur­day morn­ing the big box of hats had ar­rived at his fam­ily's home in Saska­toon. “What do you do with the other 30 caps after­wards? I'm not sure. No one has said any­thing about that yet.”

The 19-year-old Zary ad­mits that get­ting the sweater pic­ture on stage is an iconic im­age for a young hockey player. He's try­ing to pivot from that, though.

“You get to have a spe­cial moment at home with friends and fam­ily who maybe couldn't be there in a reg­u­lar (en­try draft) year,” said Zary. “With COVID-19, we're go­ing to still keep it safe. We'll prob­a­bly have 10 or 15 peo­ple over. There are so many peo­ple who helped me get to this point that you wish it could be more, but you have to be smart. You can't have a 100-per­son gath­er­ing in your house.”

Zary should be the first player based on a team from B.C. to hear his name called in this year's draft. The first round goes Tues­day (4 p.m., Sport­snet). Rounds two to seven are sched­uled for Wed­nes­day (8:30 a.m., Sport­snet).

The Blazers haven't had a first rounder since de­fence­man Keaton Ellerby went No. 10 to the Florida Pan­thers in 2007.

Zary is a six-foot, 180-pound left-handed shot who had 38 goals, 86 points, and a plus-30 rating in 57 games with the Blazers when the WHL sea­son was shut down due to the COVID-19 pan­demic. He wound up fifth in league scor­ing.

His to­tals were a jump from the 24 goals, 67 points and plus-18 rating he had in 63 reg­u­lar-sea­son games in 2018-19 with the Blazers.

TSN's Craig But­ton had Zary go­ing No. 22 over­all to the New York Rangers in the mock draft that he pub­lished on Fri­day.

But­ton's TSN col­league Bob McKenzie had Zary at No. 22 in June, while But­ton slot­ted Zary at No. 11 in March. Elite Prospects pegged Zary at No. 25 in their fi­nal rank­ings, while In­ter­na­tional Scout­ing Ser­vices put him at No. 15 in their last poll.

“I think it's all go­ing to come down to draft day,” Zary said. “Some­body is go­ing to take a guy out of the blue or there's go­ing be a trade and that's go­ing to change lists. It's sud­denly the next guy up and you could be that guy.”

Zary prides him­self on be­ing a com­plete, two-way cen­tre. He's a fan of Van­cou­ver Canucks cap­tain Bo Hor­vat and says he's had scouts make that com­par­i­son when talk­ing about his game.

Zary also sees his work ethic as one of his main at­tributes. “It's some­thing that my par­ents es­pe­cially in­stilled in me. You need to work for what you get. You need to go out and earn the puck,” he said.

Kelowna Rock­ets gen­eral man­ager Bruce Hamil­ton says that while Zary plays hard and goes to the dif­fi­cult ar­eas he also has “a lot of skill.” Van­cou­ver Gi­ants gen­eral man­ager Bar­clay Par­neta shares a sim­i­lar opinion.

“I like his fin­ish and skill around the net,” Par­neta said.

Zary was one of the 26 for­wards and 45 play­ers over­all in­vited to the Team Canada world ju­nior sum­mer de­vel­op­ment camp, which was held vir­tu­ally in July. He be­lieves he could play a check­ing or en­ergy role if asked, which would help his chances of mak­ing that team. The In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion an­nounced in Septem­ber this year's world ju­niors would be held in a bub­ble in Ed­mon­ton with­out fans.

“I think I'm a guy who could be used in mul­ti­ple sit­u­a­tions, a guy who could fit in dif­fer­ent ar­eas up and down the lineup,” said Zary, who played for Team Canada at the 2019 Un­der-18 world cham­pi­onship in Swe­den.

Zary says he's been told by NHL clubs that he needs to work on his skat­ing and his strength, which is stan­dard fare for play­ers look­ing to move from ju­nior to pro.

He's one of the older play­ers in this draft — he missed the birth­day cut­off for the 2019 draft by 10 days. He was a sec­ond-round pick, No. 37 over­all, in the 2016 WHL ban­tam draft out of the Saska­toon Out­laws pro­gram.

The first three picks in the 2016 ban­tam draft were Pey­ton Krebs, Bowen Byram and Kirby Dach and they were all first rounders in last sum­mer's NHL draft.

Zary played midget hockey in 2016-17 with the Saska­toon Con­tacts, a pro­gram that's fea­tured the likes of Luke and Bray­den Schenn, Blake Comeau, Darcy Kuem­per, Colby Arm­strong and Brent Sopel.

 ?? ALLEN DOU­GLAS/ KaMLOOPS BLAZERS ?? Con­nor Zary could be the first Kamloops Blazer picked in the first round of the NHL Draft since 2007.
ALLEN DOU­GLAS/ KaMLOOPS BLAZERS Con­nor Zary could be the first Kamloops Blazer picked in the first round of the NHL Draft since 2007.

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