Scouts need to chat. Be on your game. Media wants to talk (again?). Somebody on Twitter says I’m not good enough, but Facebook fan says I’m the best. Mom tells me to stay humble. Must read to kids at charity event. Have hockey game tonight. NHL teams watching. Can’t let the boys down. Don’t forget to pack for road trip. You are a first-round draft pick. Be humble. Just play.
Connor Zary’s mind is a minefield.
The 18-year-old Kamloops Blazers’ forward from Saskatoon appears to be navigating with natural poise, plucking motivation from doubters and zest from zealots while he wades into uncharted territory and keeps up with everyday WHLer responsibilities.
Zary woke up on Wednesday morning with a new title: league’s leading scorer, with 16 points, including five goals, in 10 games.
The six-foot, 180-pound left shot has 58 points in 47 regular-season games since the Christmas break last season and boasts a 15-game regular-season point streak that dates back to March.
More people want a piece of him.
“When I was 16, I was coming out here every 10th game and doing a quick interview because I scored a goal or two,” said Zary, who is centring arguably the league’s top line, playing between Orrin Centazzo and Zane Franklin.
“It obviously has changed quite a bit. It’s almost every day you’re getting tagged in something, some sort of social media. You’re going to see stuff all the time.”
Most Zary-related media is of the tire-pumping variety these days. He is developing a strategy for the other stuff, knowing one ill-advised tweet can affect his draft status and one ill-tempered text message can damage his reputation.
“You always hear from pros, guys who get roasted online,” Zary said. “They try not to look at it.
“They look away. But 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.”
Zary is a “B” prospect, according to the NHL Central Scouting Watch List for the 2020 NHL Draft in Montreal. The rating denotes he is likely to be a second- or third-round pick.
Slide that projection into the prove-you-wrong category. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan, who has six points in three games since the prospects’ list was issued on Oct. 7, is of the belief he is an “A” prospect.
“We’ll see when it comes to June where I am,” Zary said. “That’s what I’m worried about. It’s early in the year. I have lots to prove.
“I’m just trying to win games and help the team out as best I can.”
Without Zary’s clutch play down the stretch, Kamloops would have fallen short of the 2019 WHL post-season.
The hometown Blazers’ net was empty in their penultimate game of the regular season when Zary tallied with 56 seconds remaining in the third period to tie it up and force overtime, securing a point in the front end of a home-and-home set against Prince George.
Zary pegs that goal as the most notable of his career to date — “The crowd went crazy,” he said — but his short-handed, game-winner with less than three minutes remaining in the rematch the next night was equally valuable in the Blazers’ incredible drive to the playoffs.
Kamloops earned 11 of a possible 12 points in the final six games of the campaign to sneak into a post-season play-in tiebreaker showdown versus the Kelowna Rockets.
Kobe Mohr stole headlines with his game-winning goal against the visitors from the Little Apple, but it was Zary’s short-handed marker a few minutes later that started the party inside Sandman Centre.
“I said this earlier in the year — pressure is a privilege,” Zary said. “You’ve got to earn pressure.”
Parents Scott and Kathleen, brother Treyton and grandpa and grandma Sherdahl are among family confidantes.
“They always instilled in me to be confident in my abilities, but be humble,” Zary said. “You’ve got to stay even-keeled and work for what you’re given.”
Zary’s circle of trust on Mark Recchi Way includes assistant coach Chris Murray.
“Yeah, it can be a lot for a kid,” Murray said. “He’s got meetings almost every day with scouts and teams. The pressure can be heavy at times. I try to keep him grounded myself, give him a little poke here and there and tease him.
“But he’s pretty grounded. He’s a humble kid with a great passion for the game. That’s the best way to explain him. He is so enthusiastic about being on the ice every day. There is no downside.
“He just has a great big smile on his face every day.”
Need more on Zary?
KTW took a look at what makes Zary tick in February.
The story above will be accompanied by another 10-questions piece on Zary on Friday in KTW.