The Calgary Flames seem a good fit for Connor Zary, a Kamloops Blazer whose fiery passion for the game, for proving himself, is among his greatest attributes.
Zary was picked 24th overall in the NHL Draft on Tuesday (Oct. 6), the Flames twice trading down to collect third-round picks before selecting the 6-foot, 178-pound left shot forward from Saskatoon.
“Once they came back up at 24, I think they were pretty excited to have their chance to get me and they made their trades to get two more picks,” said Zary, who felt Calgary was a good bet to pick him, but became anxious when the trade frenzy began.
“It all worked out in both of our favours. It’s pretty special. I didn’t sleep too much last night. I was pretty excited, a little bit restless. It’s hard to put into words. It’s such a special moment for me and my family.”
Connor racked up 86 points in 57 games last season and continued showing a knack for scoring goals in clutch situations, a tendency that first snared league-wide attention in the 2018-2019 stretch run, when a slew of game-altering markers highlighted the club’s jaw-dropping run to the playoffs.
Parents Scott, a Saskatoon Police Service officer, and Kathleen, education manager for the Saskatoon Zoo Society, catapulted off the couch, along with the rest of the family-and-friends crew gathered at the Zary household, when Connor’s name was called by Flames’ legend Lanny McDonald.
Said Kathleen: “We’ve said, ‘Connor, NHL is your Plan A. What’s your plan B?’ He always told us, ‘I don’t have a Plan B, mom.’ I said, ‘Well, most people do, Connor.’ He’s like, ‘If I focus on a Plan B, that takes up a spot in my brain. Right now, all I’m focused on is Plan A. That’s what I’m doing.’
“He never stops believing himself.”
Former Blazers’ general manager Stu MacGregor and former director of player personnel Matt Recchi picked Zary 37th overall in Round 2 of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
MacGregor told KTW on Wednesday the Blazers pegged Zary one spot behind Massimo Rizzo on their draft board. Kamloops nabbed Rizzo 15th overall.
“We had the good fortune that we were going to be able to select him in the second round,” MacGregor said. “We were really surprised — really surprised. We felt, at the time, he was certainly a first-round WHL draft pick.”
Many did not.
Zary (who cemented his position with the Blazers early in his 16-year-old campaign) proved them wrong — and that has become a theme in the fledgling centreman’s career.
His response to social-media criticism, speaking to KTW last October: “It kind of gives you, and I don’t want to say it, that F-U mentality kind of thing.You can say what you want, but I’m going to prove you wrong.”
On NHL Central Scouting deeming him a “B” prospect, again chatting with KTW last October: “We’ll see when it comes to June where I am.” (The NHL Draft was originally scheduled for June in Montreal, but was postponed and held online on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the pandemic.)
Zary finished October of 2019 with a league-leading 21 points, good enough for WHL player of the month status. He was upgraded to an “A” prospect.
Here’s Zary, plucky and snubbed, talking to reporters on Dec. 2, the day Hockey Canada excluded him from the World Junior Hockey Championship selection camp roster: “I have no doubt in my mind that I should be there — 100 per cent. It’s something I really wanted to do, was be there. Obviously, I’m a bit pissed off that I’m not, but I’ve got a big road trip here, going close to home, with lots of friends and family, so I’m going to really use that as motivation to be at home and play really well and try and lead the league in scoring by the end of that.”
Zary registered 45 points in 31 games between Dec. 2 and the end of the truncated campaign in March.
Phone calls began pouring in on Tuesday night, with Hall of Famer McDonald and Flames’ stars Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk among those reaching out to their new teammate.
“For us, we are very proud parents,” said father Scott, who has logged more than a few hours fixing shattered windows, despite the netting that surrounded the Zary outdoor rink. “We were ecstatic to see the relief on his face. We are glad it’s close to home. All the work starts now.”
Scott told KTW the exact same thing on bantam draft day in 2016 — the draft is just the beginning of the process.
“They taught me to work hard and work for my reward,” Zary said. “It comes from my parents. That’s what they instilled in me from a young age. This is one of the biggest moments of my life, so far.”
The plan is to begin the process of proving himself again on Dec. 4, if the delayed WHL season can proceed as planned.
THE LIGHTER SIDE OF ZARY
Zary spoke to KTW last October to dicuss goal celebrations, music, hyphothetical fights and more.
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