Midway through the first period of the Calgary Flames game against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday evening, top prospect Connor Zary went down to block a shot while on the penalty kill. 

The 2021 Canadian World Junior silver medalist had to be helped off the ice and would not return to the game, a 4-1 Calgary victory. The organization will update his status later this week.

“That was a helluva block,” forward Ryan Francis said after the game. “That’s a huge character play by a big character guy. He’s been a leader of our team. It pumped us up and gave us a little bit of motivation to go out and kill those penalties off and win the game for him.”

“He’s a huge piece for us,” fellow first-round pick and silver medalist Jakob Pelletier said. “The guys answered well. We played with 11 forwards for two-and-a-half periods. The boys can be proud they stepped up for sure.”

With the Calgary Flames prioritizing depth and adding veterans like Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Erik Gudbranson, there don’t seem to be many opportunities to make the big club when main training camp gets underway on Thursday. It’s that type of effort from Zary that could endear him and other young players to Flames head coach Darryl Sutter.

Pelletier himself had an eventful game on Monday, scoring once, adding an assist, and making his presence felt all over the ice in all situations. Early in rookie camp, he admitted to having glanced at the big club’s depth charts. Pelletier and Zary trained together for a month prior to camp beginning.

“We kind of know who the players are, to be honest,” Pelletier said. 

“But we’re here to play. There’s a whole staff that is going to make some decisions. Our job is just to play here. The goal is to make the Flames team for sure.”

“For both of us, we put in a lot of work this summer and you come into camp not worrying about the depth chart,” Zary added.

“You come here with the mindset of making the big club…everyone has to do their job, and everyone has to perform. Just because your name is higher than someone else’s on the list doesn’t mean they can’t come out here and be better than you. So, I think every day you’ve got to put your head down and go to work.”

Stockton Heat head coach Mitch Love, an assistant on Canada’s 2021 World Junior silver medal team, has a history with both players and has seen considerable improvements.

“Even just from January when I was with them in Edmonton, you can see their physique, they’ve added a lot of muscle,” he said.

“The one thing that intrigues me about both of them is that they’re highly competitive. I think we want all our prospects to hone in on that competitiveness. The one thing I’ve really been impressed with them is their hockey IQ. They think the game at a high level.”

So as their first training camp with the Jolly Rancher beckons, do Pelletier and Zary see themselves as Darryl Sutter players?

“I think he wants players who work hard, guys who will give their 100 per cent each night,” Pelletier said. 

“He’s been around for 47 camps now, so I think he knows what it takes to win.”