Imagine, if you will, that we have entered June 21st. It’s finally draft day. The Wings are on the board. New Jersey has taken Hughes, and New York has taken Kakko. Chicago went with the local kid and drafted Turcotte, while Cozens and Byram landed in Colorado and LA. Not the best case scenario, as both Turcotte and Byram are gone, but not the worst case either, as Zegras and Caufield are still sitting there. As much as I would be over the moon if the Wings went with the pint-sized scoring machine with their sixth overall pick, careful consideration should also be given to what the Wings would be getting if they went with Trevor Zegras.
Prior to the start of this season, I ranked Zegras 9th on my preliminary list of 20 players to watch during the 2018-2019 season. Since September, however, a lot of hockey has been played. Some of the players I included in that initial list panned out, others not so much (e.g., Maxim Cajkovic). Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was Trevor Zegras, who I believe has made a case over this year to be one of the 5 best forwards available later this month, after posting an impressive 26 goals and 61 assists through 60 games this season with the USNTDP. In this article, I will be touching on what Trevor Zegras brings to any team that drafts him, and what factors have led to his success this season.
Name: Trevor Zegras
Birthplace: Bedford, NY
Weight: 174 lbs
NHL Comparable: Mat Barzal
Future Considerations: 10th
ISS Hockey: 9th
McKeen’s Hockey: 7th
NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters): 6th
Bob McKenzie: 10th
Corey Pronman: 6th
I am going to be discussing Zegras’s game across the following six categories: skating, passing, shooting, stick-handling, physicality and forechecking, and defensive game.
One of the most appealing aspects of Zegras’s game is the mobility that he possesses. Zegras is balanced on his skates, and possesses very good straight-line speed. Where Zegras excels particularly is in his strong footwork and edges, and in his ability to rapidly change gears and directions. This allows him to exploit open space when moving East-West on transition, giving him that leverage he needs to enter the offensive zone cleanly with possession of the puck.
Zegras is also rather maneuverable when skating through traffic, using his crafty footwork to freeze up opponents and give himself that extra second to make his next move. He also likes to keep a lower, wider stance on his skates when protecting the puck, making it more difficult to knock him off balance.
That being said, there is still room for him to add an extra gear to his top speed. He's quick in a straight line, but could be even faster. However, while he’s not going to blow the doors off and blaze through a team’s entire defense like you would expect an AA or a Larkin to do, he chooses his routes intelligently, has outstanding four-way agility, and is difficult to contain and predict in the open ice.
If Zegras’s skating is one of the most appealing aspects of his game, without a doubt the best component of his game is his playmaking. His ability to create for his teammates is elite for his age group, and there is an argument to be made that he is the most gifted playmaker in the draft class not named Jack Hughes.
Zegras’s trademark is his uncanny ability to make plays at high speed with staggering precision and timing. Zegras is constantly scanning the ice whenever he has the puck, possesses outstanding awareness of the positioning of his opponents and his teammates, and is quick to read opponents’ defenses and find openings that he can exploit.
He processes the game at a very high speed, and his awareness and understanding of the development of plays is rivaled by only a few of his peers. He can deliver the puck in just about any way you can imagine, and does so with astonishing confidence, whether it’s making plays behind his back, between his legs, or whether he’s looking at the teammate he’s making the pass to or not.
His ability to make plays through traffic is also impressive, and he sports an excellent saucer pass, which he makes great use of when he needs to deliver the puck through sticks and skates. These skills are especially useful on the power play. With the extra space on the ice, Zegras is very capable of facilitating puck movement from the half-walls, and his centering passes and backdoor feeds can be devastating in those situations. The imaginativeness that he demonstrates when creating opportunities for his linemates is simply brilliant.
Zegras is a pass-first player, but that does not mean that he’s not capable of finishing plays. Zegras also possesses a great wrist shot from in close, and he’s good at finding the quiet spots in the offensive zone when he doesn’t have a puck. He possesses a deceptively quick release that can catch goaltenders off guard, and when given the opportunity, he can flash a very nifty backhand that he can beat goaltenders with.
Zegras’s hand-eye coordination is also very good, which helps with redirecting shots on net. With that being said, Zegras does not shoot the puck nearly enough. I would not consider this a serious weakness at this point, but he tends to defer to the pass a bit too much when he can benefit from being more selfish and trying to finish the play himself.
There’s a rule of thumb in hockey: being skilled at handling the puck often means you don’t have to peer down at it while you’re handling it. That means your eyes are freed up for more useful purposes like scanning the ice, assessing what your opponents and your teammates are doing, and finding open lanes. This is part of what makes Zegras very successful when it comes to creating for his teammates and finishing plays, as he possesses buttery soft hands, effortless stickhandling abilities, and the patience with the puck needed to allow plays to develop before making his next move.
Zegras has an impressive range of control and motion with the puck. Regardless of whether the puck is dragged within his skates, behind him, in front of him, to his side, or whether he has to reach for it, Zegras is able to corral the puck and maintain control of it, and is able to do so to great effect when he’s in full flight or changing directions. This gives him a lot of leverage when beating defenders outside or inside, as he can put the puck in locations that are difficult for opponents to reach when he’s cutting laterally to elude them while still maintaining control of it.
He’s also adept at luring defenders into committing on plays by getting them to think that they can poke-check him, only for him to make a quick move that gives him that extra split second he needs to move around them.
He makes excellent use of his stick, head, shoulders, legs, and feet when faking opponents out, and despite his very average size, is able to protect the puck using his body to create separation between it and opponents. His hands around the net are also very impressive, as he can use an array of fakes and dekes to freeze goaltenders to finish plays off.
Overall, he’s extremely creative with the puck, and can keep pace with some of the best stick-handlers in the 2019 draft class.
Physicality & Forechecking
As I just mentioned, Zegras is not by any stretch of the imagination a large player, nor do I think he ever will be. That being said, the physical aspect of his game is where you get some mixed opinions of him. Zegras will never develop as a power forward who can clobber opposing defensemen, but he still plays with a bite to him and isn’t afraid to get in the mix. He’s also surprisingly effective at getting under opponents' skins and playing the role of an agitator, but sometimes this can also land him in penalty trouble.
When it comes to forechecking, Zegras plays a very active role in pressuring defenders to cough the puck up using his stick, and he isn’t afraid to challenge opponents along the boards for possession. One knock on his forechecking, however, is that he can fall into the habit of playing on the perimeter. Once he adds more muscle to his frame, I think this is an issue that can be addressed, and with proper mentoring, he can find that aspect of his game.
While I wouldn’t consider Zegras elite with respect to his defensive game, it is still certainly a strength. Zegras understands the importance of supporting his defensemen below the faceoff circles in his own zone, and keeps his feet moving regardless which zone he’s in. He’s always dialed in on the puck, and when he’s not directly hounding the puck-carrier, he’s getting himself into position in lanes to take the passing options away.
Zegras is an excellent pickpocket, using his stick and positioning to take away opponents’ room to skate on a consistent basis. Once possession changes hands in the defensive zone, he’s quick to transition to counterattacking up ice, and his passing is very useful in establishing transitional play through the neutral zone.
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For the team that is drafting Trevor Zegras, patience will be extremely important. Coming into the draft, so many elements of Zegras’s game are incredibly polished, and I believe that his upside warrants serious consideration with that 6th overall pick.
The Wings could really use an elite playmaker to open up the ice for players like Zadina, and Zegras fits the bill of being able to provide that. The only other players who would make me second guess picking him 6th overall are Turcotte, Byram, or possibly Caufield (I am not sold on Cozens, Dach, or Podkolzin at sixth, before you even ask).
With that being said, Zegras will still have a few things that he needs to work on before transitioning into the NHL.
One is finding the gym, and getting himself trained to his peak physical condition. Talented as he may be, the added strength and conditioning would mean that he would be better equipped to adjust to the NHL game, and better adjusted to driving the play within the guts of the offensive zone, rather than on the perimeter.
Second is finding his touch as a shooter. While he will never be expected to score 30 goals in a season, if he could eventually produce 20-25 goals and 40+ assists a season, he would be worth every minute of investment in his development.
Finally, as effective as Zegras can be at getting under the skin of other players, Zegras will need to find a way to channel that energy in a way that keeps himself out of the box.
Overall, though, I think the positives that Zegras brings far outweigh the negatives, and he will have the opportunity to prepare for making the next step to professional hockey while playing for Boston University, in one of the best hockey programs in the NCAA.
Trevor Zegras at No. 6?
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