Following the 2020 NHL postseason Philadelphia Flyers’ fans were wondering what happened to all of the team’s goal scoring. When the club’s top-end skaters as well as the depth failed to light the lamp consistently in #TheBubble the online screams for a true sniper or goal scorer were voiced by Philly fans and deservedly so.
Although the Orange and Black still have a handful of prospects in the pipeline to be excited about an organization can never have too many players who are regarded as goal scorers first and foremost, which leads us to one forward with first-round aspirations out of the Western Hockey League. Center Connor Zary of the Kamloops Blazers is an 18-year-old that just completed his third season in the WHL improving his goal totals drastically each year while his total games played decreased. Could he be a player that helps to fill in the Flyers’ void of a pure goal scorer in the near future?
What the stats say
In his third season in the WHL, Zary continued to improve both his goal totals and point totals as he finished fifth in the junior league with 86 points (38 goals and 48 assists) in 57 games of work in 2019-20. His 86 points was good enough for second on the Blazers behind 21-year-old Zane Franklin and the second most for any first-year draft-eligible skater in the WHL behind Portland Winterhawk Seth Jarvis, another anticipated first-round pick in October. Of those 57 contests Zary produced 10 three-point efforts, 18 other multi-point outings, and only nine nights where he failed to contribute either a goal or assist.
His 38 goals put him second on the Blazers behind Orrin Centazzo, an overager who found the back of the net 44 times, and placed him fifth in the entire WHL in the category. Paired with a 24-goal campaign in 2018-19, Zary’s 62 goals over the last two seasons is tied for the seventh-most tallies over the last two WHL campaigns tied with his teammate Centazzo and is the most goals by a first-year draft-eligible player in the Western Hockey League over that time. Two hat tricks and six two-goal games helped him reach 38 goals last year.
Those genos didn’t happen by mistake, as Zary is one of the highest volume shooters in the league. After he finished 27th in the WHL with 227 shots on net in 2018-19 in 63 tilts for an average of 3.6 shots on goal-per-game, Zary pumped 30 more shots on net in six less appearances to bump up his shots on goal-per-game average to 4.5 last year. His 257 shots on net was the fifth-most by a WHL player in 2019-20 and the most by a first-year draft-eligible skater.
It’s fair to question how much Zary’s production was boosted by playing alongside the likes of Franklin (a 21-year-old who finished fourth in the league with 91 points) and Centazzo (20-year-old who finished second in goals and eighth in points) on a team that led the 22-club WHL with 271 goals. Based on his playing time and one of the team’s power-play schemes being built around his shot it’s safe to say Zary was more of a driver than a passenger when it comes to offensive output. Some critics might point to the fact he has an extremely early birthday for the 2020 draft class (he missed the 2019 NHL Entry Draft cutoff by 10 days), but he still out produced nearly all the overagers in the league as well.
The Eye Test
What the eye test says is Connor Zary loves to shoot the puck, get the puck to the net, and crash the net. Although he does a really good job of putting himself in prime shooting positions for passes from his teammates, Zary isn’t afraid to let it go from anywhere in the offensive zone as he potted a couple tallies from attempts along and below the goal line in 2019-20. On top of that head coach Shaun Clouston and company trusted Zary’s shooting enough that one of the Kamloops Blazers’ setups on the man advantage was to hit the center with a cross-ice pass going from the right point to the left circle to give Zary an opportunity to let one rip while the goalie is forced to move from side-to-side.
Although it doesn’t always come through in playmaking situations for either himself or teammates Zary has high-end hockey IQ. Shooting and his shot are always going to be the first thing many people think of when they hear the center’s name, but he provided a handful of helpers during the 2019-20 campaign where his tape-to-tape or no-look pass created space for his teammates to finish easy opportunities. Take a look at these apples.
Another aspect of his cerebral play was he produced several points last season that were created solely based on his willingness to chuck the hunk of rubber at the cage. The forward lived up to the adage ‘there’s no such thing as a bad shot on net’ with a handful of goals and primary assists that were just teammates mopping up his rebounds on both shot attempts that had a likelihood of going in on there on and shot attempts that were generated with the only intention being to cause chaos in front.
It may not mean anything in terms of draft value, but his celebrations are worth mentioning as well.
All things considered, if you want the Philadelphia Flyers to grab a shoot-first forward that produces as well Zary might be one of (if not the best) option for the club at 23rd overall. Whether or not he’ll be there is another question, as he’s projected to go anywhere from the mid teens to the mid twenties. If he ends up in the Orange and Black’s prospect pool Flyers’ fans should be happy.