Trevor Zegras, US National Team Development Program (USHL)
Age on Draft Day: 18.27 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’0, 168 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (USHL Only): 27 GP, 14 G, 26 A, 34 PIM
NHL Central Scouting (North America only): 6th
ISS Hockey: 9th
Future Considerations: 10th
Craig Button: 4th
Bob McKenzie: 8th
Zegras is an intelligent player who can help a team in a multitude of ways. Jack Hughes aside, Zegras may be the most creative playmaker in his draft class. His vision is exceptional, as is his acute awareness of where everyone is on the ice and where they’re headed. As such, he has the ability to make incredible passes to players in his periphery or even completely out of sight. (Watch for #11 in all of the following clips.)
It’s not just that he is a gifted passer, but that he also can make plays from anywhere on the ice. He dominates the half-wall on the power play, can force turnovers behind the net and immediately send that lethal low-to-high pass to the slot. He’ll carry the puck past the blueline before finding a teammate streaking towards the net. He’s a difficult player to contain or coach against because he’s comfortable in any type of offensive scenario.
Zegras’ intuitive understanding of the game extends beyond the moments he’s controlling the puck. He is a proficient forechecker simply because of his spatial awareness. He always seems to make the right reads on the forecheck, cutting off the correct lanes to suffocate breakouts and create turnovers. While he lacks strength, he makes up for that deficiency with tenacity along the boards and behind the net, winning pucks through sheer will rather than force. This extends to the defensive zone as well. He’s a quality defensive center who gets his stick in passing lanes across the slot at the right times. The instant Zegras’ team loses the puck, he immediately goes into damage control and figures out the best way to pursue to it and create a second possession. That’s an ability that doesn’t particularly show well in a highlight reel, but one that will heavily tilt the ice in his team’s favor over 82 games.
Though he is more playmaker than scorer, Zegras will keep goaltenders honest. His wrist shot is good enough to beat goaltenders from within the circles and he is an inventive stickhandler, meaning that he can create good shooting opportunities for himself and make goalies commit at the wrong times.
If there was one word that best describes Zegras’ game, it is “anticipation.” In every aspect he seems to be out-thinking everyone else on the ice. He knows what passing lanes are about to open up, where his teammates are going, where the other team’s breakout is headed, and so on. His physical tools — skating, stickhandling, shot, etc. — are strong, but it’s that chess-like ability to anticipate the unfolding play that makes him a top player in this draft. In some ways, he reminds me of a more skilled and athletic version of Derek Stepan.
Zegras spent some time on the wing this season due to the USNTDP having multiple elite centers. However, I believe his future in the NHL will be in the middle. He has the frame to add some muscle that will alleviate some concerns, and his ability to think the game makes him much more effective as a pivot both defensively and offensively.
Admittedly, I’m not sure the statistics fully support our ranking of Zegras. Forty points in 27 games for the USNTDP is strong production, but that was only good enough for fourth in points-per-game.
There is a paradox of playing on a stacked team in how it affects production. On one hand, there’s an argument to be made that it helps Zegras, as having strong linemates is better than weak ones, and Hughes’ presence meant that Zegras wasn’t necessarily the opposition’s top concern.
However, all of the talent around him also eats into his production. The more that Hughes and Alex Turcotte are touching the puck and being sent over the boards, the less Zegras is. In a situation where Zegras was the clear-cut No. 1 center — or at least no-doubt top-six center as he would have been practically any other season for the USNTDP — I believe he would have produced more offensively. There were times this season that Hughes and Turcotte missed time due to injury, and Zegras did not miss a beat.
I also have strong faith in Zegras’ defensive abilities, which are difficult to quantify given the lack of data at the junior level. I believe Zegras’ game projects well long term. His physical attributes are fairly strong, but he is one of the smartest players available in this year’s draft. He’s going to be an incredibly versatile player at the pro level. He’s a strong puck carrier who creates zone entries and buys time for plays to develop. He is a tremendous passer and a player who makes high-percentage shots happen from seemingly innocuous situations. He’s a power play quarterback who thrives along the half wall. He’s a strong systems forechecker who recycles possession in the offensive zone and shuts down transition rushes the other way. He’s a skilled defensive center who eats up dangerous puck movement across the slot. He may not be the best player on a contending team, but he has the potential to be an all-situations player with whom coaches fall in love.
Although we have him ranked fourth, the consensus generally ranks him lower. Because this draft is so open-ended, Zegras could just as easily get taken third overall as he could 14th. If he does fall into the early teens, don’t be surprised if he’s someone the Rangers try to trade up and grab.
What Others Have Said
“Zegras makes high-end offensive plays look routine.”
- Chris Peters, ESPN
“His ability to navigate the half-wall on either side and pick apart the opposition is as good as I’ve ever seen. He finds the seams. He knows when to shoot. He’s got deception to his game and there’s fearlessness to him that he’s not scared to make mistakes -- and he doesn’t make many of them. He’s just been an unbelievable player to watch.”
- USNTDP Head Coach John Wroblewski, via NHL.com