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Blackhawks’ No. 17 pick in 2020 NHL Draft: Making case for Connor Zary

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The Kamloops Blazers center has a lot of skill, but his skating may hurt his draft status.

2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Second City Hockey staff will profile 10 players leading up to the 2020 NHL Draft, which will start Oct. 6, the Blackhawks could have the opportunity to select at No. 17 overall.

Connor Zary thought he should’ve been on Canada’s World Junior Championship team, so when he was cut from the team’s training camp he used it as motivation for the second half of his WHL season.

The Kamloops Blazers center turned his motivation into 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in only 29 games before the WHL season ended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He finished with 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists), including 38 points on the power play, in 57 games to put him a tie for fifth in WHL scoring. His 1.51 points-per-game were second only to Seth Jarvis of the Portland Winterhawks among 2020 draft eligible players in the WHL.

Zary generates offense with ease, whether it be scoring a goal or setting up teammates, and consistently gets to high-danger areas. He’s creative with the puck and works hard in his own zone on the backcheck. He lacks high-level skating and his ability to transition with the puck is therefore limited.

Mitch Brown’s Tracking Project

But everything else Zary does looks good. He has soft hands with a quick release on his wrist shot. His frame enables him to get to high-percentage areas and be an effective forechecker. He’s also developed an ability to make more plays this past season, but that area of his offensive game still requires some work prior to the NHL transition.

While Zary didn’t play any international games this season, he did score seven points in as many games for Canada at the 2019 under-18 WJC. He turned 19 on Sept. 25, which makes him older than some other players the Blackhawks might be considering at No. 17. He missed last year’s draft by only 10 days.

Zary compares himself to Canucks center Bo Horvat, which makes sense based on their effectiveness in the offensive zone and ability to get to the high-danger area. Both are also able to work on either special teams unit, as Zary could run the penalty kill or be an effective crease pivot on the power play.

Organizational fit

Zary fills some of the same roles as Kirby Dach as a center. Both can play on either special teams unit. However, they play the same role on the power play as the net-front presence or crease player.

While they may seem a little redundant, having two talented high-danger threats as the first- and second-line centers is not a bad thing, especially when they both play a 200-foot game. Both come from a long line of talented two-way centers from the WHL and have played against each other.

Zary would likely thrive in a second-line center role with Dach taking more of the pressure-filled matchups.

Basics

Position: Center

Age: 19 (Sept. 25, 2001)

Hometown: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Height: 6 foot

Weight: 181 pounds

Shoots: Left

Team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

Draft rankings

NHL Central Scouting (NHL): No. 15 North American skater

Elite Prospects: No. 25

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): No. 13

Corey Pronman (The Athletic): No. 10

Cam Robinson (Dobber Prospects): No. 22

Craig Button (TSN): No. 10