Z Parekh Action 3

The 2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft will be held June 28-29 at Sphere in Las Vegas. The first round will be June 28 (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) and Rounds 2-7 are June 29 (11:30 a.m. ET; ESPN+, NHLN, SN, SN1). NHL.com is counting down to the draft with in-depth profiles on top prospects, podcasts and other features. Today, a profile on Saginaw defenseman Zayne Parekh. NHL.com's full draft coverage can be found here.

Zayne Parekh makes overachieving look like just another day at the rink.

Parekh was named the top defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League this season after he led the Ontario Hockey League at the position and was tied for sixth among all players with 96 points (36 goals, 63 assists) in 66 games for Saginaw. It was the third-most points in a season by a 17-year-old defenseman in the league, behind Bruce Cassidy (111 points, 1982-83) and John Slaney (97 points, 1989-90). His 36 goals were second to Slaney (38, 1989-90) among defensemen his age.

That comes after his 21 goals last season were the most ever by a 16-year-old OHL defenseman.

Parekh, who turned 18 on Feb. 15, also achieved something else at age 16: his high school diploma.

"People make it out to be a lot harder than it sounds," Parekh said. "I started a year early, so I started school with the [2005-born], and then around Grade 6 my dad wanted me to keep pushing and keep going ahead, so he ended up having me skip Grade 7. So then I just went into Grade 8 and then at that point I was with the [2004-born] and did my four years of high school and I ended up graduating two years early."

Saginaw coach Chris Lazary, who has worked in the OHL since 2014, said he's never been around a player as driven as Parekh at that young an age.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "I couldn't believe it, but then when you get to know the kid, you're not shocked. He had that plan where he wanted to get his high school done sooner rather than later, so when he did come into this league, he could come in in the morning to work on his strength, he could get on the ice extra and work on his shot, he could get into a coach's office and go through video. He had that kind of plan."

Parekh said having time that would have been spent juggling math and science classes to instead work on and off the ice has helped speed his development.

"It's been huge," he said. "That's exactly what I've done. And instead of having to wake up at 7 a.m. and going to school until 11, I get to go to the rink at 9:30, 10, and be able to kind of skate on my own and do my own things just for 10 minutes a day even. It's been huge to just be able to do a little skill work here and there. It's been everything for me."

Parekh took a class with some teammates during the spring semester at Saginaw Valley State University and plans on taking more in the future. And for a time, he considered taking the NCAA hockey route like his older brothers, Aydin, 22, a defenseman at Utica University, and Isa, 20, who will be a freshman defenseman at Bemidji State University in the fall.

"It really was a big talk and at one point it was something I really thought I was going to end up doing, but it didn't work out that way," Parekh said. "I ended up wanting to go to play in Saginaw just because in the OHL you get 70 games a year. It's been huge for my development and I'm super happy with the choice I made."

That choice and all his hard work has paid off, with Parekh No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2024 draft.

"For me, he could run an NHL power play tomorrow," Nick Smith of Central Scouting said. "He's just a special player. He's more explosive than people give him credit for. He's got an elite hockey mind. He's got touch around the net. He sees the ice so well. He does a lot of good things out there."

That includes improving defensively. At 6-foot, 178 pounds, Parekh relies on angling and smart body positioning to break up plays and transition to offense.

"I think there's been a lot of growth lately, especially over the last six months or so," Parekh said. "I've been working pretty hard at it, constant video and just kind of finding little tricks to understand how to defend better. If you go back and look at a year ago to now, I think it's taken a huge step and it's something I've really honed in on and focused on more than just keep continuing to develop my offense.

"I'm never going to be a physical specimen, someone that's going to blow guys up or something like that. You watch the way Cale Makar defends and [Adam] Fox, it's a bunch of little stick work and small details in that area. So just understanding, kind of reading off where guys are going to go and finding good ways to get sticks on pucks."

Parekh's plus-39 rating, up from plus-3 in 50 games last season, tells part of the story.

"If you watch his gaps off the line, they're elite," Lazary said. "He gets a lot of kills either exiting the offensive zone or through the neutral zone. His stick is very good. He closes hard down low, he's on the right side of the puck more often than not. Like any player, does he make some defensive mistakes? Yes, but they all do. I think overall, his defensive game is way better than people give him credit for.

"I do think a lot of the NHL teams that have now interviewed him or at least called on him, have said they've noticed steady improvement in his defensive game. And that's because he's tired of hearing about how he doesn't defend when he does, so he's made an extra effort to show that he has that element to his game."

The doubters have provided some pretty good motivation as well.

"I do take it personally to be honest and that's something I really care for," Parekh said. "To hear people say that I can't defend, it really burns a fire in me, and you want to go out there and show them that I can."

In Parekh's final chance to showcase himself, he had five points (one goal, four assists) and was a team-best plus-6 in five games to help Saginaw win the Memorial Cup. 

"He's very shifty, he's hard to contain when he gets going," Smith said. "He knows how to find open ice. He's got great vision, he's firing seam passes, backdoor passes, on the tape with precision. He's just an elite talent for sure.

"To be an NHL player, you've got to have a 200-foot game. He's trending in the right direction. And I think he's coming into his own. That takes time. ... But I know he's got a lot of teams pretty fired up."

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