Connor Zary does not play favourites when it comes to 2020 NHL Draft mock drafts.
“Any one where my name is on it,” said Zary, the Kamloops Blazers’ star centre who is likely to be selected in Round 1 of the draft, which will be held online on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7.
“If you take those into too much consideration, you’re just going to get in your own head, so I try not to look.”
Zary, a six-foot, 180-pound left shot from Saskatoon, was 15th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the 2020 draft.
Online mock drafts vary. Corey Pronman of The Athletic has Zary landing at 19th overall (Calgary Flames), as does mynhldraft.com. Draftsite.com projects Zary goes 20th overall (New Jersey Devils) and tankathon.com pencils him in at 15th overall (Toronto Maple Leafs). TSN analyst Bob McKenzie pegs Zary 22nd in his final draft rankings. Craig Button, also of TSN, had Zary 11th on his list in March, but the Blazers’ forward is not inside Button’s top 15 in his Aug. 10 mock draft.
“I get tagged in things all the time and some where it’s like, ‘Oh, we don’t want this guy,” said Zary, who turns 19 on Sept. 25. “I just laugh it off. It’s funny. After No. 1, you can’t really say who is going where.”
Rimouski Océanic captain Alexis Lafrenière — MVP of the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship, with 10 points in five games for gold-medal winning Canada — is expected to be taken first overall by the New York Rangers.
Zary racked up 86 points, including 38 goals, in 57 games last season, numbers that helped him become a first-team WHL all-star, the first Blazer to earn the honour since Cole Ully in 2014-2015.
The Blazers’ most recent first-round NHL Draft pick is Keaton Ellerby, who went 10th overall to the Florida Panthers in 2007.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Zary, who grew up supporting the Maple Leafs. “One team might like you and you think you’re going to go there, but they might make a trade to better themselves for next season. A team might like a different guy or need a D-man.”
This year’s crop of first-rounders will be robbed of their draft-day moment, the camera shot of them hugging family and friends before skipping down to the stage to put on their new team’s jersey.
“You watch the draft and it’s something you dream of,” said Zary, whose draft-day celebration will include close friends and family. “It’s going to be on TV and I’ll be with my agent. I don’t know if it will be like the NFL, when they call you right before the pick. It would have been nice to be in Montreal, but it’s going to be awesome either way.”
NHL Central Scouting listed three Blazers in its final rankings — Zary, goaltender Dylan Garand of Victoria and forward Josh Pillar of Warman, Sask.
Garand, who played in 42 regular-season games last season and posted a .921 save percentage, is a great bet to be drafted, ranked sixth among North American goaltenders. The draft trend of late is to select tall netminders, about 6-foot-2 or taller.
“That’s definitely a big topic when you go into your draft year,” Garand said. “My opinion on it — it doesn’t really matter at all.”
Garand, a left glove, is not short, pushing 6-foot-1, but his height, or perceived lack thereof, has potential to affect his final draft position.
Dustin Wolf, about six feet tall, was the WHL’s top goaltender in 2018-2019, posting an incredible .936 save percentage after 61 games. The Calgary Flames nabbed Wolf, from Tustin, Calif., with the fourth-last pick in the 2019 draft, 214th overall in Round 7.
“He’s shorter than I am and he just lit up the frickin’ league and he’s a top NHL prospect,” Garand said of Wolf, who was on track for another great season in the truncated 2019-2020 campaign. “Some guys are taller and, generally, scouts use it as a safety guard, that goalies are tall. But at the end of the day, 6-3 or not, my job is still the same, to stop the puck, and I don’t think my height limits that at all.”
Perhaps the impeccable performance of 5-foot-11 Dallas Stars’ backstop Anton Khudobin in these NHL playoffs will boost the stock of the less vertically blessed.
“Guys are shorter and doing it right now in the NHL,” Garand said, noting he plans to invite Blazers’ goaltending coach Dan De Palma to Victoria for a draft-watch party.
Pillar, a six-foot, 175-pound right shot, tallied 14 goals and 44 points in 63 games last season.
“You see the rankings and you never really know,” Pillar said. “I’d be happy any place, anywhere, with any team. I’d be happy if I went. If I didn’t go, that would be another story.”