Saskatchewan hockey fans had lots to cheer about during the opening round of the National Hockey League draft.
Four players who either play in the province or call it home were among the first 31 picks including Saskatoon native Connor Zary, whose family won’t have to travel far to see him play in the NHL.
The Calgary Flames selected Zary with their first pick in the draft, 24th overall. The former Saskatoon Contact has long dreamed of playing in the NHL and now he’s a whole lot closer to seeing that dream come true.
With the draft moving online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Zary was at home when the Flames made their selection.
“(It was a) pretty special moment with my friends and family just gathered around waiting for my name to be called. Didn’t know when, didn’t know where but everything worked out in my favour and it’s a pretty amazing feeling,” he said.
Although he grew up as “a bit of a Maple Leafs fan,” Zary says that is now null and void.
“To be in a city close to home and in a great city and a great organization with great fans and a great hockey city, it’s amazing. (I’m) so thankful and honoured to be part of the organization now,” he said.
The 19-year-old was projected as a potential first round pick this year after finishing tied for fifth in Western Hockey League scoring last season with the Kamloops Blazers. Still, there were some tense moments waiting for his name to be called.
“Little bit of nervousness, little bit of buildup, little bit of anxiousness just waiting and when Calgary came around at 24 I kind of had a feeling that that was it and that’s where I was gonna be,” he said.
The Flames originally held the 19th pick in round one but traded down twice before selecting Zary. While the forward’s offensive talent is a big draw, Flames general manager Brad Treliving says that isn’t the only reason he was at the top of the team’s draft board.
“He cares about the play in his end as much as in the offensive end and (he’s) a highly competitive kid. He’s in the middle of the action. Fifty-fifty pucks, loose pucks, you know he’s a dog on a bone and he plays with a lot of juice,” Treliving said.
Zary’s competitive drive will be a big asset as he looks to reward the Flames for putting their faith in him.
“My 200-foot game and my work ethic that allows me to play with my skill is what’s going to be huge for me moving up into the next level…work hard for everything and earn everything and that’s how I’m going to look at things,” he said.
In doing so, Zary hopes to take that final step on the long journey from the outdoor rink near his home to the bright lights of the NHL.