The Anaheim Ducks got their top prospect under contract recently when center Trevor Zegras signed his entry-level contract. The Boston University star leaves the Terriers after just one season, but given his results (33 points in 36 games to rank third on the team), it's not totally surprising.
"He’s a playmaker," said Terriers coach Albie O'Connell. "He’s been touched with the gift of vision and timing and ability to find a small little window to get that puck through."
Nowhere was this more on display than at the world juniors, where Zegras led the Americans in scoring with nine points - all of them primary assists. It took a little time for the young center to earn ice time under national coach Scott Sandelin, starting with less than 10 minutes in the opener against Canada. But by the end of the tournament Zegras was up to 17:24. Unfortunately, Team USA's tourney came to a sudden halt in that quarterfinal game when the squad was blanked 1-0 by a sturdy Finland.
“Looking back, we could have achieved a lot more, but that’s the way it goes," Zegras said. "Obviously I have a fire in me to go back and go further than the quarterfinal, but that’s tough to wrap my head around right now.”
Even by signing with the Ducks, Zegras could potentially play in next year's WJC. The lessons he learned in his first sojourn helped the kid deal with adversity and Anaheim's brass was paying attention: because not only was Zegras proving himself to a new coaching staff, but he was also playing out of position on the wing.
“It does pose some challenges," said Todd Marchant, Anaheim's director of player development. "When you go from center, where you have the freedom of the middle of the ice and go where you need to go to support the puck, to on the wing where you have to win puck battles along the wall and sometimes get confined by the wall, you have to find ways to create time and space for yourself. Trevor adapted very well at the tournament.”
Marchant sees a boatload of talent within Zegras, but that doesn't mean the ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft is a finished product.
“No question he has to get stronger, like most 18-, 19-year-old kids," Marchant said. "And he has to gain a step in his skating to create that time and space he needs to create offense.”
At Boston University, Zegras could take advantage of the school's vaunted strength and conditioning program and even as a freshman, he saw results; not so much in the sheer weight he was doing, but in his overall on-ice game.
“It’s more about getting your time in there and how I feel out there, not the numbers," Zegras said. "I feel more confident in the corners and in the faceoff circle.”
Listed at six-feet and 170 pounds, Zegras is never going to be a monster in the NHL, but he can leave that to other next-gen Anaheim heavies such as Max Jones and Maxime Comtois. The new kid's job will be to help take one of the NHL's worst offenses and get it back to respectability. The Ducks are currently folding their previous crop of prospects into their lineup, with names like Jones, Comtois, Troy Terry and Sam Steel finding their way amongst a rapidly-changing forward group. None of those players have become game-breakers yet and while there is still time, Zegras has the highest ceiling of any of them. He may be the youngest and he may need some time with San Diego in the AHL next season, but sooner than later, the Ducks are going to have an ace on their hands.
“He’s very likeable," O'Connell said. "Kinda loud, talks a lot. But he’s got a good way about him and a good sense of humor. He’s always watching hockey trying to get better. When it all comes together, he can become a really scary threat.”