With the No. 14 overall pick, the Oilers select… Connor Zary?

Leading up to the NHL draft, I’ll be profiling 10 players who the Oilers could consider taking with the No. 14 pick. Today, we have Connor Zary. 

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I know that I’ve branded this series as ‘who will the Oilers select with the No. 14 pick?’ but I’m going to change it up a little bit with this one.

There’s been quite a bit of talk about whether the Oilers could opt to trade down in the draft. They have their pick at No. 14 but don’t have a second-round pick in 2020 or 2021 due to the Andreas Athanasiou trade and will have to give the Flames their third-round pick either this year or next. That’s a lot of draft capital gone.

Given the depth of this year’s draft class, the thought is that the Oilers could trade down and get themselves a later first-round pick and a high second-round pick and have the ability to draft a couple of high-quality prospects rather than just one.

If Edmonton was to move down to later in the first round, one name they could have their eyes on is Connor Zary, a highly-skilled centre who had a huge season for the Kamloops Blazers.

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Connor Zary

Date of Birth: Sept 25, 2001
Country: Canada
Position: Centre
Height: 6’0″ / 183 cm
Weight: 181 lbs / 82 kg

Ranked #22 by TSN/McKenzie

It’s Zary’s shot that leads the way. He’s a deceptive triggerman, one with excellent shot placement, a deceptive release, and the ability to fire two-touch missiles on a moment’s notice. His ability to collect difficult passes is a real difference-maker. He doesn’t often break stride to receive passes either, maintaining the pace of his team’s attack. – EliteProspects 2020 NHL Draft Guide

Zary is a prairie boy from Saskatoon with NHL-ready size. At 6′ even and 180 pounds, Zary has the frame of a prototypical skilled number-one centre. And that’s exactly what he was for a very good Blazers team in 2019–20, as the pivot of an excellent top unit with overage playmaker Zane Franklin and finisher Orrin Centazzo.

But Zary isn’t just a great scorer. In his draft year, he was already one of the most trusted presences on Kamloops’ tremendous penalty kill, which ranked third in the WHL this year. His three shorthanded goals in 2019–20 ranked second-most in the Dub. – Mike Gould, FlamesNation

NHL scout on Zary: “He’s full of skill, hockey sense and competitiveness. You can use him in any situation and he won’t disappoint you. The skating will need to come, but it will get there with strength.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic

The thing that makes Zary an attractive player is his ability to put the puck in the back of the net. He has a quick, hard shot with great accuracy that he can use to pick corners from many different areas of the offensive zone. That kind of profile would project for Zary to really become a weapon on a quality NHL power-play.

Beyond that, Zary is also regarded for his 200-foot game. He boasts a great hockey sense and competitiveness and doesn’t take shifts off in his own zone. Zary was a key part of Kamloops’ offence, but he was also one of the most important members of their penalty kill.

The knock against Zary is his skating. He has NHL-ready size but will need to work on his wheels in order to really translate his game from the junior ranks to pros.

Edmonton is obviously set down the middle for a long time with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. A good winger is probably a more glaring need for Edmonton’s system, but adding another high-quality pivot with a good two-way game is never a bad thing.

The question here is whether or not trading down is the right strategy. As I said earlier, this is said to be a very deep draft class, so there’s an argument to be made that moving down lower to add some quantity in the first couple of rounds would be worthwhile.

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But that takes me back to 2003, arguably the strongest draft class of all time, in which the Oilers came out empty-handed. Edmonton traded down and gave up their chance to draft Zach Parise in order to select Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Jean-Francois Jacques. Quantity over quality didn’t work that time.

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