Trevor Zegras is about to start what the Anaheim Ducks and their fans hope will be a long and fruitful union as their top-line center. However, Anaheim’s 18-year-old, ninth-overall selection has a few stops to make along the way before he reaches the NHL, including playing for the Boston University Terriers. Here’s what he will face this season with the Terriers and beyond before he hops over the boards for the Ducks.
Zegras’ Will Try to Be “One and Done”
One thing is for sure, Zegras won’t be at rookie camp or training camp for the Ducks, and he won’t play in any preseason or regular-season games soon. Zegras committed to play with the Terriers in July 2016 when he was only 15 years old. That means he cannot sign a contract for the Ducks and still play college hockey because that would officially make him a professional, which the NCAA forbids.
However, it’s very likely, for more reasons than one, which I will get to in a moment, that Zegras will try to make his professional debut this season, whether that’s for the San Diego Gulls or the Ducks. He said so himself after the Ducks drafted him.
“I know it’s probably not looking great to play on the team to start the season, but I think I can put a really good foot forward and maybe make the roster at the end of the year, after the end of the college season.”(from “First-round pick Trevor Zegras sets lofty goal,” – The Orange County Register – 6/28/19).
It’s still not common for players to pull hockey’s version of the “one and done” but it does happen. Most recently, Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Joel Farabee left Boston University after a single season while New York Islanders 2018 No. 11th-overall pick Oliver Wahlstrom opted to spend only a single season at Boston College.
It’s more common for highly touted prospects, who have committed to play college hockey to stay two years or more. That would include current NHL defensemen Cale Makar, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski and Ducks forward Troy Terry.
The Lockout Factor
Unlike for those previously mentioned players, there’s a dark cloud looming over the future of the NHL that might encourage Zegras to leave college early.
The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) officially expires after the 2021-22 season, but both the NHL and the NHLPA can choose to opt out next month. If they do, the CBA will terminate in September 2020, and if the two sides can’t reach an agreement, another lockout will occur.
That makes a difference for Zegras and his earning potential. With the league getting younger by the year, and thus the prime of a player’s career shifting earlier, missing NHL games is time wasted if a player believes they are ready. Therefore, it would be foolish for Zegras to risk losing not just a few NHL games and paychecks in 2019-20, but the entire 2020-21 season.
It isn’t entirely dependent on Zegras. Bob Murray and the Ducks front office would have to weigh their options because they ultimately decide whether to call up their ninth-overall pick and the Ducks are known for not rushing their prospects to the NHL. The odds are high that he will at least spend time with the Gulls before making the jump to the Ducks (although Terry didn’t before his NHL debut).
BU is the Best Place for Zegras to Develop for Now
Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves; Zegras’ stint in college will be beneficial for his development. Many young players still chose major-junior before turning pro because it’s long been considered the best pipeline to the NHL, not to mention its schedule more closely rivals pro calendars.
However, the highest levels of college hockey, which include Boston University and the entire Hockey East Conference, feature bigger, stronger, more physically mature competition.
His competition will be closer in age and strength to the men he will someday play in the NHL. They face the 2019 national runner-up UMass Amherst, one of at least 12 games against a 2018-19 top 20 team in the nation.
He will also have the unique opportunity to play his former club, the U.S. Under-18 Team. He played on the opposite side of that contest last season where he had two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Terriers.
On top of that, he will get to play in perhaps the most storied college hockey tournament outside of the national championship, the Beanpot.
Zegras will also battle former USNTDP teammates Spencer Knight, Matt Boldy and No. 16 overall pick Alex Newhook at least three times when they face heated rival, the Boston College Eagles, who they also face in the Beanpot and may face in the Hockey East Tournament.
All of this goes to say that Zegras will face a high quality of competition, even though he isn’t starting his professional career yet.
Zegras Will Continue to Play for Team USA
As a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Zegras will have a strong chance to make Team USA for the World Junior Championship. Though nothing is assured, Zegras had a productive World Junior Summer Showcase and in all likelihood, will make Team USA.
That means Zegras will be exposed to more high-level international competition on a brightly lit stage. Expectations for Team USA will be sky high considering last year’s unprecedented success of the Under-18 Team, which will graduate many players to the World Junior Team.
The pressure to succeed at the World Juniors is immense and is considered a measuring stick for future NHL prospects. The tournament will feature Zegras’ toughest competition.
Remember the scrutiny Max Comtois received with Team Canada last year? Though he was a member of the Canadian team and subject to more intense national attention because the tournament is much more popular in Canada, his successes and failures provided him an opportunity to show his leadership ability.
The World Junior Championship is a unique opportunity for players to handle themselves as professionals before they sign a pro contract, and Zegras will benefit from the opportunity.
If you’re looking to keep tabs on Zegras this season, watch Boston University. Pay close attention to the World Junior Tournament in December and Beanpot Tournament in February. Even more importantly, send good vibes to the NHLPA and the league, not to opt out of the current CBA and figure out their labor differences quickly. Even if it pushes Zegras to the NHL early, no one wants to miss out on hockey.