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Getting to Know: Zary and Niederbach

Two centers may be around in second or third rounds

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

The tentative dates for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft have been set for Oct. 9-10.

Of course, as with everything -- including the upcoming playoffs -- that will depend on whether health experts deem it is safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The draft, originally set for June 26-27 in Montreal, will likely be done in a virtual environment.

The Detroit Red Wings have three second-round picks - their own, the Edmonton Oilers' pick (acquired in the trade that sent Andreas Athanasiou to Edmonton) and the Washington Capitals' pick (acquired in the trade that sent Nick Jensen to Washington).

For the next several weeks, will take a look at some of the players, one North American and one international each week, who are likely to be available.

This week we'll examine two centers who will possibly be around for those second and third-round slots.

There is a better than average chance that Connor Zary of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers won't last until the second round based on many of the rankings but you never know what can happen in a draft.

The 6-foot, 178-pound forward was quite prolific, scoring 38 goals and 48 assists in just 57 games this past season.

NHL Central Scouting had Zary ranked 15th among North American skaters.

Tweet from @CHLHockey: Connor Zary of @blazerhockey is living the dream of being a top #NHLDraft prospect and is having fun with every step of the process.WATCH 🎥: #CHLKTP

TSN's experts, Craig Button and McKenzie were a little different in their evaluations, with Button ranking Zary 11th and McKenzie placing him 22nd.

Tweet from @markhmasters: Talking to @ConnorZary on ...* Never forgetting @HumboldtBroncos* Inspired by @igotmind* Advice from Shane Doan* Goal celebrations 🚨🐻* Learning a trick from Sidney Crosby* Horvat, O'Reilly = role models1-on-1 with the @blazerhockey centre 👇

Zary appeared in a Zoom interview with TSN's Mark Masters and was asked about having Button putting him in such a high spot in his final rankings, released March 30.

"At the start of the year I was (ranked) lower and had to work my way up," Zary said. "That's something I take pride in is getting up those draft rankings and proving to a lot of people that I'm a top player, So, getting my name up there is good and being that high is where I want to be. There's still 10 guys in front of me and I still have to work harder to prove I can be just as good as those guys, so that's just another challenge."

The Athletic's Corey Pronman had Zary 10th on his overall list.

Watch: Youtube Video

"Zary was one of the top players in the WHL in his third season in the league and the major reason why Kamloops led the WHL in scoring," Pronman wrote. "Zary is a very entertaining player, as he's one of the most skilled players in the draft. His touches with the puck are very quick, he's extremely creative and he can beat defenders clean consistently. He had numerous moments this past season where he pulled off a highlight real-caliber play. Zary is a very smart offensive player. He can make the seam passes and find teammates very well, but also makes plays happen through unconventional ways. He scored a lot of bad angle goals this season, and he finds teammates in situations where there doesn't seem to be a play. Zary is a highly competitive player. He doesn't just dangle on the perimeter, he attacks the net, he pressures defenders and he is in the face of his opponents constantly. He can kill penalties and run your power play. The major knock on Zary is his skating. Some scouts think it'll be pro average, some think below-average. I lean to the former camp. It's not great, and the stride breaks down at times, but I think the stride is good enough that he'll be able to skate at the NHL pace." 

Tweet from @TheWHL: Eligible for the 2020 #NHLDraft, @ConnorZary impressed on the power play for @blazerhockey! WHL Season Rewind 📰 |

The Athletic's Scott Wheeler also had Zary high on his list, ranking him 13th.

"Zary plays that middle-lane, tenacious, high-tempo game that every team covets in a center," Wheeler said. "His feet are always moving, he pushes pace, he's engaged on the forecheck and he has enough skill to create as a playmaker and a passer. His footwork through his crossovers and speed in transition (an improved quality) opens up just enough time and space for him to make those plays - and then when that space closes in on him he's a deft handler who can navigate in and out of traffic. I don't see a star-level player. Zary doesn't have the flair of any of the forwards ahead of him or one dynamic quality that can break down defenders and split open a shift but he's a versatile, well-rounded creator who can drive a line."

The Red Line Report has Zary 19th in its 2020 Draft Guide: "Making the correct play with the puck comes naturally for him and he shows poise beyond his years. One of best assets is his puck control -- strong along the boards and maintains possession through traffic. Makes plays with his head up, has good vision and exploits holes in the defensive coverage by executing accurate passes, showing one-touch distribution. Has an impressive knack for bursting through holes into open ice at just the right moment to receive a pass, and buries his chances around the slot. Is not a player who tries fancy stuff; keeps it simple pursuing effective options of getting the puck to net. Very consistent effort without the puck. Keeps his feet moving in the defensive zone. Comes back deep to help his defensemen, and does a good job making himself available on tough exits. A high-energy competitor who does something to get your attention every viewing."

Tweet from @Hockey_Robinson: Connor Zary has swagger

Dobber Hockey was also impressed with Zary and compared him to a player that Red Wings fans know and love -- Dylan Larkin.

"A tenacious, puck-hound of a center, Zary brings a complete package to the fantasy board," Dobber Hockey said in its 2020 Fantasy Prospects Report. "He was everything for the Blazers this season, finishing the year sixth in league scoring with 38 goals and 86 points in 56 games. The 18-year-old loves to shoot the puck -- averaging nearly five per game, and makes a habit of getting shots off and then fighting in for second-chance opportunities. He has the potential to fill the category sheet with an abundance of face-off wins, blocks and some hits as well. He'll receive less notoriety in drafts, but hold sneaky value."

Theodor Niederbach is a similar-sized center as Zary at 5-foot-11, 172 pounds, but has not impressed the draft experts as much.

Some of that could be due to Niederbach missing the entire 2018-19 season because of a knee injury.

NHL Central Scouting had Niederbach ranked 19th among international skaters.

Tweet from @JoelLander1891: Here is Fr��lundas first goal by Theodor Niederbach assist by Karl Henriksson #2020NHLDraft #Fr��lunda #J20setop10 #PlayLikeANewYorker

Playing for Frölunda Jr, Niederbach had 15 goals and 33 assists in 40 games.

TSN's Button and McKenzie were on the same wavelength when it came to Niederbach, with Button placing him 64th and McKenzie 66th.

The Athletic's Wheeler had him similarly slotted, at 58th in his final rankings.

But The Athletic's Pronman had Niederbach a bit lower, at 87th.

"Niederbach was a leading scorer in the Swedish junior circuit and an important player for the Swedish U18 team," Pronman said. "Niederbach is a very smart offensive player. He makes a lot of plays and is someone you want with the puck on his stick. With his club he was often asked to set up behind the net on the power play, and with Sweden's U18 team he was a half-wall guy, making a lot of plays from both spots. I debated between putting a 55 or 60 on his puck skills. I leaned to a 60 because I was convinced he has great hands, but I do think he needs to use his skill more tp attack defenses. Niederbach's main flaw is his very average footspeed. While he competes well, he does have an injury history after missing all of 2018-19 with a knee injury which may have made him look slower than he will be in a few years."

Tweet from @JokkeNevalainen: A PP goal by C Theodor Niederbach (2020). Assisted by C Karl Henriksson (NYR) and LHD Simon Edvinsson (2021).1st #SuperElit point for Edvinsson in his 3rd game in that league.

The Red Line Report had Niederbach significantly lower, at 153rd, saying, "Fine speed and skills; effort/compete levels are spotty."

Dobber Hockey was a little more enthusiastic about Niederbach's abilities: "Niederbach is a very skilled and creative playmaking center with lots of potential. He missed the entire 2018-19 campaign to a knee injury but still managed to enjoy a strong 2019-20. He excels on the power play, where he collected most of his points. He's not the greatest skater and his 200-foot game will need a lot of work if he wishes to stay at center, but it's difficult to say just how much all of that was due to his missed season. In general, Niederbach was a third-liner on a stacked Frölunda J20 team but he's expected to play a bigger role next season in 2020-21. He should get some games at the men's level, as well."

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