"Electric." "Creative." "Dynamic."
When I asked a group of scouts to describe what Trevor Zegras brings to a game, those words were a common occurrence. Maybe it's true, then? It's hard to say otherwise if you've watched him play for the United States at the World Junior Championship, where he currently looks like a favorite to win MVP after leading the tournament with 15 points in five games.
Zegras, 19, signed with the Anaheim Ducks in the fall after just one year at Boston University, and now he's making the case to make the team out of camp. The Ducks are going to be near the bottom of the West Division, and Zegras' hot play for the United States over the past two weeks have given him a real chance of making the lineup out of camp - after quarantining following his trip back from Edmonton, of course.
Zegras' performance wasn't unexpected. One of the tournament's top forwards a year ago with nine assists in five games, Zegras enters the semifinal tied with Mike Modano for third all-time in single-tournament scoring for the Americans and three points behind Brayden Schenn for the most points in one tournament over the past decade.
So, what makes him so good? From the various scouts and coaches I talked to, they all seem to have a general consensus of his play: he's reliable at just about everything.
"He's a pretty balanced player," USA head coach Nate Leaman said about Zegras early in the tournament. "If you sit off of him, he's going to shoot it. By him shooting, it opens up the pass. When he's passing, it opens up the shot.
"He is just as dangerous at the end of a shift as he is at the beginning of a shift."
A recurring thing about Zegras' game is his ability to make the most of the available ice to create a scoring chance. His wrist shot isn't often mentioned as his most desirable trait, but he showed it off at all angles at the tournament, including a tough-angle wrister from the right boards that gave USA a 2-0 lead against Sweden - a goal that took any steam away from the Swedish attack.
"When you make such elite plays so often, such as spinning no-look passes threaded through traffic, or catching a goalie above the shoulder when he's already hugging the post, it's one thing to do that on occasion, but when that seems to be the norm, those kind go guys have a little something extra special offensively," an American-based scout said.
Zegras was known more for his play-making abilities prior to getting drafted and took that narrative for a ride last year with his zero-goal, nine-assist stat line at the tournament a year ago. But as he continues to grow and shows more patience and confidence in the puck, scouts have loved seeing how creative he can get to make plays happen and a year in college seemed to help with that. Zegras has been one of the most dominant players with the disk at this tournament in a way that he wasn't even a year ago.
Mix good skating with a dominant offensive presence and a hard-working defensive effort and you've got a good one in Zegras," a college scout said. "There isn't a player I'd rather have in a must-win situation at this tournament. It's one thing to do it against teenagers and another to do it against men, but I'm confident he's got what the Ducks need."
A Canadian scout added: "While I have concerns about just how much his wizardry will translate to the NHL, he has more than enough evasiveness and quick vision across multiple lanes in the offensive zone to become a very useful scoring forward in the NHL. Teams might learn to counter his patented spin pass that can take up valuable seconds to prepare and pull off, but he's undeniable as an offensive weapon."
"When Zegras has the puck on his stick, he can rope a strong seam pass through tight lanes and initiate scoring opportunities," a junior hockey scout said. "His soft hands allows Zegras to pick corners extremely well when shooting the puck."
Zegras has real top-six upside and will be a near-permanent member of Anaheim's power play once he finally makes the team. If the Ducks don't feel like he's ready for the big leagues, they can send him down to the AHL if need be to get more playing time. But
"If I were the Ducks, I'd get him in opening night," another scout said. "Let him prove himself after a strong world junior tournament."
Anaheim needs a replacement for Ryan Getzlaf in the near future and Zegras appears headed down that path. The team is still in full rebuild mode but with forwards Isac Lundestrom, Jacob Perrault and Sam Colangelo and defenseman Jamie Drysdale in the system, there's real hope. And maybe Sam Steel, Max Jones and Troy Terry find their groove and figure things out, too.
Right now, though, all eyes are on Zegras and his exploits in Edmonton, and scouts couldn't be much happier.
"I hate watching him play," a college scout said. "But that's because he's so far ahead of most of his age group that his skill makes getting a good read even tougher."