It’s time. It should’ve been time at least a month ago, but at least we can stop drooling longingly over his AHL highlights now.
Center Trevor Zegras, the Anaheim Ducks’ No. 1 prospect, will make his NHL debut soon, likely for Monday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Given the Ducks made Zegras available to the media over the weekend and indicated he’ll get power-play time when he draws into the lineup, per the Athletic’s Eric Stephens, it appears Zegras will play right away. It makes sense given he has the talent to immediately become the team’s best offensive center if he’s as ready as his AHL footage suggests.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NHL, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to a long time, and it’s something my family’s been looking forward to, so it’s going to be a pretty special day when it happens,” Zegras told reporters Sunday during a Zoom call.
Blowing up for seven goals and 18 points (!) in seven games at the 2021 world juniors didn’t earn Zegras, 19, a call-up to the Ducks to open the NHL season. But they’ve deemed him worthy after he delivered four goals and nine points in eight games with their AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, in his first taste of pro action. He arrives with potential to become one of the best playmakers not just from the 2019 draft class but of his current generation. His developmental rise has also been meteoric.
What can we expect from Zegras at the NHL level? Here’s what talent evaluators have said about him in the years leading up to his big-league debut.
Trevor Zegras, 2018-19
In The Hockey News’ 2019 Draft Preview edition, our prospect guru Ryan Kennedy ranked Zegras seventh overall. He was projected to be an easy first-rounder at the time but, playing on a U.S. NTDP squad that featured Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte, Zegras had spent much of the season as the third-line center aside from filling in on the second line when Turcotte was hurt. Though Zegras’ shot got decent marks and his overall game was compared to Tyler Seguin’s, Zegras was projected as more of a playmaker than a scorer, with an underrated edge to his game at a somewhat undersized six-foot and 168 pounds. Scouts saw a high ceiling plus a respectable floor. “He has high-level potential,” said one scout in the pages of Draft Preview 2019. “I don’t think he’s a boom-or-bust guy, but there’s a big swath between his top potential and his bottom potential. This guy could be an A-plus or a B-minus.”
In the year that followed, Zegras trended toward the A-plus ceiling.
Trevor Zegras, 2019-20
After the Ducks nabbed Zegras ninth in the 2019 draft, he began his college career at Boston University, averaging better than a point per game and making Hockey East’s third all-star team. He also led the 2020 world juniors in assists with nine in five games. He really started to turn heads at that tourney, flashing the look of a player who could lead the NHL in assists someday. In our 2020 Future Watch edition of The Hockey News, our panel of active NHL scouts and team executives fawned over Zegras, grading him as the No. 2 overall NHL-affiliated prospect behind only Colorado Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram. Zegras was singled out for his ability to handle the puck at high speeds.
Trevor Zegras, 2020-21
As the calendar flipped to 2021 and the U.S. world junior squad crusaded to a gold-medal win, Zegras put up otherworldly numbers en route to winning the tournament MVP award. Zegras’ 18 points were the 12th-most for one tournament in WJC history and matched Brayden Schenn’s 2011 effort for the most points by any player at a WJC this millennium. Zegras equalled Jordan Schroeder’s all-time record for points by an American at the tournament with 27 – and Zegras did it in 12 games, seven fewer than it took Schroeder.
To the surprise of many prospect watchers, the Ducks, a team hurting for offensive talent, sent Zegras to the AHL the week after the tourney. The goal would be to call him up if he quickly outclassed the competition there and, well, a month later, that’s what’s happened. Flourishing as a left winger playing alongside Sam Carrick, Zegras leaves the AHL tied with Seth Jarvis for the league lead in points. It doesn’t get much more pronounced than that.
For Gulls coach Kevin Dineen, it wasn’t so much the highlight plays that made Zegras appear ready for a call-up as it was the attention to detail and commitment to playing a two-way game.
“With a guy like ‘Z,’ the way he can make some high-end plays, he not only brought that to our group, but he also brought the responsibility part, so it was a really good mix,” Dineen said. “It was a good showing for him. He really showed that high-end skill. He had a few hiccups and burps along the way, which everybody does, whether we’re coaches or referees or players at the American League level, and that’s why he’s there.
“But I’ve had the opportunity to be with the Ducks a couple different times and got to see the entry of Ryan Getzlaf, who came down to Portland (in 2005-06) and played the game the right way. I use him and Corey Perry always as an example for a lot of our players, because they just came down and embraced what we were doing. You prove that not only can you play at this level but that you’re ready to move on, and I think ‘Z’ is in a good place.”
Dineen believes Zegras’ play is “an extension of his personality,” which, in Zegras’ case, means playing the game with an infectious joy.
“He’s a fun teammate to be around, he’s a real good student of the game, and he’s an enthusiastic guy,” Dineen said. “It’s a bit of a kick in the tail for anybody getting sent to the American League, but he jumped in with both feet and really became a quality teammate. He showed that in his game and the way he wanted to distribute the puck and work with his linemates.”
So now Zegras links up with an Anaheim team averaging the fewest goals per game in the NHL at 1.83. During Sunday’s Zoom call, coach Dallas Eakins indicated Zegras will start out on the wing when he does draw into the lineup.
“He’s obviously had a good start numbers wise in the American league,” Eakins said. “I think he’s been working hard. Those little parts of the pro game that are so important and can come back and bite you in a game, things that we talk about here all the time: turnovers, puck management…there will be a different level of speed here for him. But he looked so excited. I talked to him for a few minutes this morning. He’s like a kid in a candy shop. He was just ecstatic to be out on that ice.”
Anaheim’s power play, which was 30th in the NHL last year at 14.7 percent, sits 30th again at…7.5 percent. Not a misprint. The numbers practically scream for Zegras’ assistance and only add to the hype. But he understands he has to block out that noise rather than arrive expecting to be a savior.
“I really try not to look into that kind of stuff,” he said. “I’m just going to try and go out there and play the best I can, help the team any way I can, just try and be a good teammate, stay positive. All that other stuff’s out of my control. You try to just control what you can control, and you go from there.”
Now, we wait to see how well Zegras controls the game at the NHL level. It should be fun to watch.