‘It’s been incredible’: Connor Zary continues to impress

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Everyone keeps saying that every newbie will have their ups and downs.

On the surface, however, there haven’t been many low points in the first 31 games of Connor Zary’s Calgary Flames career.

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There were a couple of games towards the end of December where his production dropped a bit, and maybe that can be classified as a drop? Honestly, it seems like a stretch, but even if we’re being ungenerous and call it “low,” it definitely didn’t last long.

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And on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators, Zary might have played the best game of his young career.

He scored the Flames’ first goal, a big rip in the top corner and an assist on Noah Hanifin’s goal early in the third period. The 22-year-old also did a good job on the boards to help set up Blake Coleman’s game-winning goal.

“He’s been a great addition to our team,” Coleman praised after the game. “He plays with a poise that not many have at that age and that level of experience. He is willing to make plays and is not a high risk guy, handles the puck well, plays smart and plays well on both ends of the ice.

“It’s a long year and it will have its ups and downs like everyone else, but it has made our team significantly better.”There is no discussion about that.

Since making his NHL debut on Nov. 1 against the Dallas Stars, Zary has scored nine goals and added 12 assists. In the same stretch, only Yegor Sharangovich, Blake Coleman and Nazem Kadri have more than the 21 points he achieved.

It’s a historically good start for a Flames rookie, who was also selected in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft. According to NHL Stats, Zary became the third Flames rookie in 30 years to record 20 points in 31 games or less, joining Johnny Gaudreau, who did so in 26 games played in 2014-15, and Jarome Iginla, who needed 30 games to reach the 20-point mark in 1996-97.

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That’s elite company.

“It’s been amazing,” Hanifin said. “It has been a big difference for us. Simply his way of playing, his energy. It can sometimes be difficult to stay consistent during your first year in the NHL. It’s a tough league and I think overall it’s been unreal for us in almost every game.

“It’s all their habits. It is in practice, everything. He is already acting like a professional.”

While his teammates marvel at his consistency, Zary himself rejected the idea that he hasn’t had bad games.

Those two aforementioned year-end games stand out, and he spoke openly about getting his game back in the right direction last week after breaking out of a four-game scoreless streak with a goal and an assist against the Nashville Predators. .

And on Tuesday night he reiterated that it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses.

“I think, personally, there have been games where I don’t think I was good and I had to try a little harder,” Zary said. “That just comes from the confidence and the coaching staff pushing me and telling me when I need to improve and when I need to keep pushing and keep the pace up.“It’s little reminders like that and little things in my game. I think I’ve gotten old and mature enough to know when I’m not playing my best game. You’re going to have those games, but just get over those moments.”

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Zary is proving that he is absolutely capable of overcoming the inevitable lows and delivering plenty of highs.

Tuesday night against the Senators was another one of those.

“He’s trying hard, he doesn’t want to leave here,” Flames head coach Ryan Huska said. “He wants to make sure he remains an NHL player, not just for the foreseeable future but for the long term.

“I think he understands that the way he plays, when he’s sharp and he thinks it through, he has an impact every night and when he’s at his best, like he was tonight, those are the types of games he plays. He controls the puck, makes good plays with it and has great composure.”

There doesn’t appear to be any risk of Zary going anywhere anytime soon. He has already established himself as one of the best rookies in the league.

A couple of weeks ago, there were rumors that maybe he should be in the mix as a Calder Trophy candidate for NHL rookie of the year.

Those are only going to increase in volume. His 21 points place him fifth in scoring among NHL rookies this season. The four guys ahead of him have played at least seven more games than Zary, and his 0.68 points per game is second-best among first-year players in the league this year, behind only the Chicago superstar Blackhawks, Connor Bedard.

There may be some drops in Zary’s game in the future. That happens to most newbies. There will probably be some valleys.

But so far, the peaks have been tremendously spectacular.

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