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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Trevor Zegras has incredible passing ability

The USNTDP forward is projected by most outlets to go somewhere in the top 10.

Rena Laverty/USA Hockey

Trevor Zegras is a deft playmaker — the best in the entire draft class after projected first overall pick Jack Hughes. A member of the U.S. Under-18 team this year, he was part of an ensemble that could really make his offensive talents shine.

Birthplace: Bedford, NY, USA
Shoots: Left
Position: Centre/Wing
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 168 lbs.
Team: U.S. National Under-18 Team

With the development program, he recorded 87 points in 60 games. That includes the team’s season in the USHL and contests against NCAA opponents. He also ended the year with nine points in five games at the World Under-18 Championship after missing the start of the tournament due to injury.


What drives Zegras’s offensive success is his passing ability. The forward can make very difficult feeds look easy with his incredible vision. This talent makes him stand out from just about everyone else in this 2019 draft class. Rare are the games when he doesn’t impress one way or another with beautiful setups that would not be attempted by most players, or even occur to them.

Take a look at this collection of plays made by the forward during the season. Zegras can use his backhand or forehand just as efficiently to set up a lot of different passes:

  • Send the puck into space for a teammate to skate into;
  • Use the boards to make indirect feeds halfway across the ice;
  • Challenge the defence to create a pocket behind him in which to drop the puck, giving a teammate a chance to release from the slot;
  • Do the same, but instead follow it by lobbing a pass to a teammate driving to the net;
  • Slide the puck across the Royal Road (from one side of the ice to the other) through multiple sticks and skates, or;
  • Spin on himself, or go through his legs inside the defensive coverage, to create passing lanes that weren’t previously there.

He shows a lot of diversity and creativity in his feeds. It allowed him to collect assists at a rhythm of better than one per game.

Zegras isn’t overly deceptive in his passes, contrary to many other playmakers who rely on manipulating the defence to open passing lanes. Instead, on top of his ingenuity he relies on his precision, his quick execution, and a stickhandling ability that rivals some of the best handlers in the draft to create many of his memorable plays.

Those abilities also allow him to create chances for himself. He combines his shifty handling with heel pushes and turns within his wide-skating base to get inside the sticks and skates of defenders, constantly altering his stick grip to adjust his manoeuvres as opponent’s flail away at the puck.

Here are a few sequences taken from both games versus the Russian Under-18 team that showcase Zegras’s hands.

The forward would be even more dangerous if he were to combine his attacks with the speed he possesses more often. As he consistently looks for passing targets, he slows down upon entering the offensive zone to look for support, exploiting the space between the defenders and the backcheck that was present at his level of play but won’t be as common at higher levels. By keeping his feet moving, using his high agility and finding a better mix between shooting and passing, Zegras would be just as dangerous with the puck on his stick against better opponents; no matter their defensive response, he would have an answer.

It’s a safe bet that he will learn to adapt as the challenges grow. He is incredibly skilled, and he could be counted on for different roles inside the U.S. National Team Development Program. He played both on the wing and at centre this season, and some of his best games came when he acted as the number-one center for the team during Jack Hughes’s absence for the World Juniors. In that time, Zegras showed himself capable of playing a solid two-way game while retaining the full force of his offence.

He is capable of some physical play, but most of his defensive success comes from timely stick lifts while tracking the puck back to his zone, stealing it in between blue lines to immediately spring his team on offence.

This ability was reflected in his advanced stats. The forward was one of the most involved in the backcheck in all of the tracked data. Looking broadly at the numbers, his offensive prowess also led to him ranking at the top of many scoring categories, especially the ones related to playmaking: expected primary assists, shot assists, and one-timer assists.

From Mitch Brown’s tracking project

In June, Zegras is projected to be selected in the top 10 of the draft by many scouting services. His passing talent makes him a very desirable target for a team looking for help on the power play or a setup man for their shooters. That being said, it’s also possible to see the USNTDP forward fall slightly outside the projections to an organization picking in the middle of the first round. His offensive game isn’t as well-rounded as some of the other top picks. His tendency to force passes might have some teams hesitate to call his name on the podium with an early pick.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Elite Prospects: #21
Future Considerations: #10
Hockey Prospect: #10
ISS Hockey: #9
McKeen’s Hockey: #7
McKenzie/TSN: #10
NHL Central Scouting: #6 (NA skaters)

Next year, Zegras will join some of his supporting cast at Boston University, where he will get an occasion to be the main engine behind the team’s offence over a full season. It will be a new challenge for the prospect, but one he has the talent to meet.