Elite traits is something I often look for in prospect analysis. Having an elite trait separates top prospects from the rest. Difference makers are what we search for in the draft, players who can make an impact on the game. USNTDP forward Trevor Zegras certainly fits the bill as a player with ungodly playmaking. Zegras’ playmaking isn’t just elite its special. He is one of the most entertaining players from the 2019 NHL draft to watch because of his creativity and ability to create something out of nothing.
But revising my claim on players with elite traits — that group of players all have the ability to impact the game at a high level. Zegras falls short of my top-10 because the players ahead of him can all impact the game in a variety of ways. But that isn’t to slight Zegras. Despite having him at 13 I’d still consider him a top-10 talent.
|Team||U.S. U18 (USNTDP)|
|Birthday||March 20, 2001|
Skating: 50 – Puck Skills: 65 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 60 – Physicality: 35
Zegras’ calling card is without a doubt his playmaking. He is the best passer in this draft because of the inconceivable plays he pulls off. His vision is by far the best in the draft, but what really makes it unique is how he creates passing options. It isn’t just simple tape-to-tape passes of his forehand, but rather he adjusts his body to create lanes. With his shiftiness he can pull of jaw-dropping dimes, specifically his patent spin play in which he can execute off both his forehand and backhand.
No one else in the draft can do this kind of wizardry. It is truly something to behold.
The way he is able to make off-balance passes or from one foot is mesmerizing. His awareness of where his teammates are at all times makes him a threat from the most compromisable of positions. You’d be hard pressed to find a better pure passer then Zegras. His palymaking is a by-product of his high hockey IQ. With the way he sees the ice I can comfortably call him one of the smartest players from this draft class.
But his creativity and shiftiness isn’t just reserved for his teammates. He can stickhandle with the best of them, incorporating an unpredictable factor to the way he operates. You don’t know what he’s going to pull out of his sleeve in the moment because of how skilled he is. He can make the flashy skill play to dance through a defense. Below is just two examples of how great his puck skills are:
Zegras at it again. pic.twitter.com/Dp9VaUM90M
— Cameron (@AthanasiouLater) March 17, 2019
As a skater he is a little slow for my liking. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed to match others from this class. I would love to see him add an extra gear in years time. But his stride and edge-work are both quality.
Zegras is obviously super skilled, and that alone makes him a first round talent. But sometimes just pure skill can’t be good enough. When Zegras was playing as a center this season he was not a dominating presence away from the puck. He is a skinny kid who struggles to assert himself physically. It’s because of this I think he may end up on the wing long-term. I think of former top-10 pick Casey Mittelstadt who is as talented as it gets, but failed to live up to the hype in his rookie season. Obviously, though, Mittelstadt still can develop in to a star but he’ll need time. For many who see Zegras as a top-5 caliber player, I’m not there with him because I don’t feel he is best fit to be the guy. I would gladly take him on my roster, but preferably as a second-liner.
Zegras to me can be a piece to the puzzle of building a Stanley Cup contender, but he won’t the centerpiece of it all. So while his ceiling is very high, realistically I see a top-6 winger who can play with finesse and thrive on the powerplay. While I have him listed at 13, I’d have no problem if someone stepped up and took around the 8 range. At the end of the day, you’re still getting a highly skilled, intelligent playmaker who can make others better.
Zegras is slated to play for Boston University, a program that is losing many of its key players from last season to the pros. I don’t think Zegras will be a one-and-done, and will need to return for his sophomore season. Going back to the Mittelstadt comparison, these type of skill players can fall hard if they are rushed. Zegras will need time to develop physically and refine his play away from the puck before he goes pro.