With the World Juniors set to go in just over a month, Team Canada’s Selection camp is well underway. Two Flames prospects, Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary, have earned the chance to battle for a roster spot on the stacked Canada lineup.
So far, the camp has been divided into two teams: Team White and Team Red, with Zary and Pelletier playing on opposite teams. However, both have had strong showings of late.
Fresh off of two games for Val d’Or in the QMJHL, Pelletier has been red hot coming into camp. While he has not been as prolific a scorer as Zary, Pelletier has been noted for his strong presence and “playing the game right way”.
In the first game against Team White, Pelletier was lined up with Cole Perfetti and Hendrix Lapierre, draft picks of the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals respectively. Pelletier tipped home a Perfetti shot to keep the game close, and also picked up a primary assist on the first Team Red goal, but they fell 4-2.
In the second game, he remained lined up with Perfetti, but elevated from the fourth to the second line centred by Mavrik Bourque, a Dallas Stars draft pick. This was a significant jump up the lineup for Pelletier.
While he managed to pick up a secondary assist, there were no points for the Flames’ prospect, who remains with two points and tied for second on Team Red with a goal and an assist through two intrasquad matches.
While his numbers do not jump off the page, he’s still leading the charge for Team Red, and he should be expected to make some more noise going forward. Pelletier was unable to compete last year due to injury, so expect him to push hard this season to make the team.
While the Flames’ 2020 first round pick this year was not high on many people’s draft boards or included on virtually any roster predictions, he has shown why the Flames picked him. Currently sitting second in points with four, Zary has absolutely lit it up so far.
Starting in his first game at centre, he played between Adam Beckman of the Minnesota Wild and Philip Tomasino of the Nashville Predators. While he only picked up an assist in this one, he was dynamic at both ends of the ice, and a player who stood out to many observers.
The issue with Zary’s position is that the Canadian team boasts incredible center depth. The path for Zary to make the team was incredibly difficult at center, and it looked like if Zary were to make the team it might have to be on the wing.
In the second intrasquad game, Zary shifted over to the wing, and he caught fire. Moved over to the left side on a line centered by Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks and joined by Tomasino on the right, this line was the highlight of the night.
Zary picked up his first assist, getting the puck in the zone for Dach to make a sweet spin-o-rama to evade the defender, then get the puck on net where Tomasino roofs it on the rebound.
His second assist came on Team White’s third goal as part of a beautiful three-way passing play that was put home by Tomasino again.
Finally, as if he wasn’t having a good enough night already, Zary puts the game away with an empty netter from his own zone to seal this one for Team White.
While he managed to pick up three points, he could have easily had a second goal. Finding space in front of the net, Zary was fed beatifully by Dach, but was shut down by goalie Taylor Gauthier, a Calgary native.
After the game, Zary was singled out by Coach Andre Tourigny, who said that Zary was one of the best players at camp, elevating from game one, where he played centre, to game two, where he was on the wing. Team Canada is loaded at centre with Quinton Byfield, Kirby Dach, Mavrik Bourque, Dylan Cozens, Ryan Suzuki, and more, all vying for one of the four centre positions. With Zary able to play both centre and wing effectively, it gives the team additional versatility going into the tournament.
This versatility alongside finding instant chemistry with Dach can only help his case to be one of the thirteen forwards wearing the red and white at the tournament in Edmonton. Dach is a lock to make the team and the fact that Zary has been a perfect linemate for him bodes well so far.
Remember that Zary was brought in to camp last year to replace the injured Pelletier, and ended up being one of the last cuts for the team. This year, Zary will be hoping he can do enough to earn a roster spot, and represent Team Canada in Edmonton.
The team is expected to make a round of cuts this week, but with the impressive performances of both Pelletier and Zary thus far, it seems unlikely that either will be sent packing at this point. Look to see if they can continue this pace in the next intra-squad match on Tuesday.
Photo credit: Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers