KAMLOOPS — From the time Connor Zary stepped on the ice in the preseason, you could tell he was a special player, even at 16.
He's only one of a handful of 16 year olds playing in the Western Hockey League this season.
"It's pretty cool being here," said Zary, who's enjoying a road trip back home to Saskatchewan. "I've really loved every moment of it, and I'm not taking it for granted."
Forty-one 16-year-old players are listed on WHL rosters, but only a few like Zary are regulars making an impact.
With three goals and three assists in 24 games this year, Zary is seventh in scoring among 16 year olds.
"I've felt like I fit in pretty well," said Zary. "Right now, I'm in a bit of a slump. I'll try and get out of that hopefully back home, but I feel like it's all been going good. Team's been winning. That's what you want."
Head coach Don Hay said despite the six points, Zary has been more valuable than what you see on the stat sheet.
"I always look at the stats. To me, I feel he's got more stats than what he's shown because he's so composed with the puck and he's been able to play on the power play, make real good plays," noted Hay.
His linemate from game to game is Jermaine Loewen, who said Zary's unique skill set elevates the play of everyone on his line.
"Seeing him, it's just his ability seeing the ice. He sees the ice pretty well and he's got pretty good hands," said Loewen. "He's a really skilled player, so that helps other guys. He knows how to play well with other guys on his line."
Loewen has tried to rub his upbeat energy and infectious smile onto young players like Zary.
"I try to just bring energy towards him and try to encourage him," he noted. "Bringing a smile every day and bringing that energy. That rubs off on people, even on the tough days. You just try to encourage the younger guys."
Coach Hay noted that as well as Zary has played in the first half of the season, he expects an even better player after the Christmas break.
"For a young player to go home and then come back after Christmas, you see a big improvement because they're a little bit homesick. They're really getting antsy to get back home right now. They're really excited," said Hay.
"Connor's a guy that we think plays really well. Even though he's not putting up a lot of points, we really have a lot of confidence in him."
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