2023 Calgary Flames Prospect Rankings: #4 Connor Zary

We’re now into the finalists for the Calgary Flames’ top prospect rankings, with just four prospects left to go. These are the Flames’ best prospects, with many expected to play NHL games next season. One of those players is Connor Zary, who came in this year at fourth.

Zary’s development so far

The Flames traded down twice in the 2020 NHL Draft to select Zary in the first round from the Kamloops Blazers. The forward finished fifth in league scoring in his draft year with 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games. With the WHL on pause to start the 2020–21 season, Zary joined the Stockton Heat for nine games, where he played on the wing with Adam Ruzicka and Matthew Phillips. In that time, he had seven points and looked like a driver of that group. He then went back to junior and played an injury-shortened season, logging 15 games with the Blazers as the team’s captain. He put up 24 points in that timeframe.

He would go on to sign his entry-level contract with the Flames and join the Heat again for his first full season, but before he could do that, he picked up a lower-body injury and was out for the first half of the season. Then when he returned, the Heat pushed him to playing centre, notoriously more difficult than playing on the wing. This was a really tough transition for the forward, but he managed to find his feet, ending with 25 points in 53 games.

This season was a big step forward. Zary put up 58 points in 72 games, and more importantly developed a swagger about him. He showed he had more in the tank than last season and also was not afraid to battle guys bigger and older than him. While he didn’t hit the point-per-game mark this year, he did develop substantially and looks to be even better next season.

Zary’s strengths and weaknesses

Zary is a goal scorer and loves to put them in the back of the net. This past season he had 21 in the regular season, and added one more in the Wranglers’ nine playoff games. He is able to use his smooth-skating and slick hands to beat goalies from all different angles. Take a look at this goal he scored in the playoffs, going end to end, showcasing his speed, skill, and scoring prowess:

He’s not moving particularly fast the whole way through, but he’s got a great read of the ice, keeping his head up and moving accordingly to create a beautiful goal. His hockey IQ has been a huge part of his game for years, and is one of the key reasons why the Flames drafted his so high. He has the ability to read the game at such a refined level, and that’s a skill that should translate well to the next stage of his development.

The one thing that isn’t talked about enough in his game was how good he is in his own zone. This has been a major area of focus for him under Mitch Love. Zary was moved over to centre last year, and even when he struggled, the team saw the potential in him to grow and get better. He has always been a reliable two-way threat, but having him develop as he has into a very good centreman in the AHL is better than many imagined. He took a huge stride forward this season, getting more positionally sound in his own zone, understanding his role as the centreman to support the play in transition, and not allowing as many chances to develop through the neutral zone. He’s a very strong player and someone who is tough to play against.

Zary’s next steps

As much as I’d love to say Zary is an NHLer right now, he isn’t quite there yet. He likely needs the better part of next season to really grow and develop in the AHL and take one more step forward before he’s ready for NHL games. He played primarily in sheltered roles in the AHL this past season, mostly in a middle-six role, and will need more seasoning in high-danger roles before he’s ready for active NHL duty. That being said, Zary probably finds his way into an NHL game or two at some point this season. He’s a very good prospect and if he has a good camp or a good stretch of games, he probably earns a look at the NHL level.

One thing is starting to become clearer, Zary looks like a player for the Flames. Whether that’s this season or next, it’s only a matter of time before he sees NHL ice. if all works out, he probably tops out as a middle-six centre in the NHL, but even if the Flames can get a third line reliable scoring centre, they’ve done quite well with Zary. Time will tell.

Calgary Flames 2023 Top 10 Prospects

Honourable Mentions | #10 Arseni Sergeev | #9 Lucas Ciona | #8 Parker Bell | #7 Walker Duehr | #6 Matthew Phillips | #5 Jeremie Poirier | #4 Connor Zary | #3 Jakob Pelletier | #2 Matt Coronato | #1 Dustin Wolf

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