Connor Zary was drafted 24th overall by the Calgary Flames during the 2020 NHL entry draft. Zary went on to split his 2021 season between playing for the Kamloops Blazers and the Stockton Heat. He showed promise in both leagues scoring at over 1.5 points per game in the WHL and just under a point per game in the AHL.
The following season, Zary had a year many would consider underwhelming. He put up 25 points in 53 games for a points per game rate of 0.47. In the same season, the Heat went on a run to the western conference finals and Zary didn’t contribute much only posting two points in 13 games. To highlight how much he struggled, he went from being ranked at the top in our Flames prospect rankings for 2021, to being ranked ninth leading into the current season.
Heading into this season, the hope was that Zary would take some huge steps forward in his development and that’s exactly what he did.
Quickly analyzing what contributed to Zary’s struggles last year
I’ve already said that Zary had an underwhelming year last season, but let’s quicky look at what made the year such a struggle. To start, during a rookie game, his ankle was injured which sidelined him for the first eight weeks of the season.
The other factor would be transitioning to centre at the AHL level. He played centre in junior, but playing the position at a professional level comes with a lot more responsibilities which led to him having a difficult time finding his groove. In his first three games of the season, Zary had one point at earned a -7 rating. Yikes! Zary did end the season hot, which has led into the current one.
It was the two-way responsibility that was what Stockton wanted him to work on, and seems to have paid off in spades this season.
One of the best players on the Wranglers
Now, this latest version Connor Zary has had a huge rebound season and he has done it in style. Zary has not only been one of the Wranglers’ most consistent point-producers, but also has been a reliable two-way player for the team. Perhaps more than that, he has really grown into his own at the AHL level. Unafraid now to push his weight around in front of the net or to throw hits on guys seemingly much larger than he. That confidence has been huge for his development, and will be enormous as he looks to take another step forward to the NHL.
The Calgary Wranglers are the best team in the AHL, and Zary has been a huge part of that. Zary plays on the Wranglers second line and his most common linemates seem to be Emilio Pettersen and Cole Schwindt. Zary is only behind Matthew Phillips in scoring for the Wranglers. He has 20 goals and 37 assists for 57 points in 66 games and a points per game of 0.86. Zary is not only high in Wranglers scoring but also in AHL scoring. He has found himself just inside the top 15, being tied for 15th with two other players.
If the Flames either clinch earlier than expected or find themselves suddenly out of the playoff race, we could see Zary play in the last few games of the season for them.
Zary seems to have found his confidence and looks a lot more comfortable at the AHL level. He has grown more mature and has developed some on ice leadership. Zary has made a big impact for the Wranglers and hopefully it continues for their playoff run.
Zary continues to progress
Connor Zary has made some huge strides this year going from a struggling rookie to one of the best players on the best team in a professional league in the span of a year. Finding confidence and preparing and training for the AHL instead of juniors have been giant factors for his fantastic season. Being fully healthy helps too. Zary’s overall and mental game continues to grow and hopefully he will reach the point of being an impactful player for the Flames one day.
Photo from @CalgaryWranglers on Twitter.