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NHL Draft

Zegras thrives in shadow of Hughes ahead of 2019 NHL Draft

Playing with projected No. 1 pick helps center become A-rated prospect in own right

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

It can be challenging to be on a team with Jack Hughes, especially if, like the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, you play center.

But Trevor Zegras of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team doesn't view being labeled No. 2 behind Hughes as a problem. In fact, Zegras thrives under the constant comparisons and friendly competition not just with Hughes but among the rest of his highly touted teammates.

"The mentality you have going into practice knowing that you are competing and playing against the best guys, the ones that you're going to go up against at the next level is just awesome," said Zegras, an A-rated skater in NHL Central Scouting's December Players to Watch list and projected first-round pick in the 2019 draft.

"We're the closest team ever. Everyone's pulling for another, so I don't think there's so much jealousy as there is happiness for one another when we're playing well. Everyone's pulling for each other because you know you'll get your chance."

Zegras is second to Hughes on the U-18 team in points with 49, to Hughes' 56, and Zegars' 36 assists are second to Hughes' 43. Zegras and Hughes are tied for third with 13 goals.

The Bedford, New York native has come into his own in his second year with the program, which is based in Plymouth, Michigan.

Coach John Wroblewski said Zegras has grown from a good and talented player to "a player who is now determined to be one of the best on the planet, and he's on that path.

"It's a credit to him. Sometimes you get up against competition and all of a sudden you fall to the wayside. Or, like Trevor has done, you can get right in the ring and start swinging with those guys. He's such a dynamic part of the equation on this team."

Zegras' patience with the puck and on-ice vision makes him lethal on the power play, maybe even better than Hughes in that area.

"(Trevor) deals with the competition and playing second fiddle to Jack very well," Wroblewski said. "When it's time to make a choice for who's playing where on the power play between him and Jack and which guys get to go out next, he makes a very strong argument for being the best power player on the team. His ability to navigate the half-wall on either side and pick apart the opposition is as good as I've ever seen. He finds the seams. He knows when to shoot. He's got deception to his game and there's fearlessness to him that he's not scared to make mistakes -- and he doesn't make many of them. He's just been an unbelievable player to watch." 

Friendly competition aside, Hughes and Zegras can complement one another. After the first period of a game at Notre Dame on Oct. 7, Wroblewski put Zegras at right wing with Hughes at center and Cole Caulfield on the left. The combination worked, and the U.S. won 4-1.

"I was amazed at Trevor's ability to adapt to the position," Wroblewski said. "As a kid who plays so instinctually, a lot of times as centerman he's just going back and the first thing he's thinking about is supporting the puck. For him to be able to adapt to the wing and shift back and forth, I've been really impressed with that aspect of his game."

Zegras said playing wing was an adjustment but it also helped raise the confidence level. He'll be able to further boost that confidence at Boston University beginning next season.

"He's a first-line player in college hockey right now," Wroblewski said. "He'll step in and I'm sure if (Philadelphia Flyers prospect) Joel Farabee is still there, that's probably a combo you will see right out the gate. Trevor will be a first-line center for them and the go-to power play guy as a freshman, no doubt in my mind."

And Zegras acknowledges, he'll be taking a little bit of his NTDP teammates to Boston and beyond.

"I think my time at the NTDP I am able to learn a little bit from everybody's game," Zegras said. "There's such unbelievable talent and I think being able to apply some of those things learned with my teammates and use them in my own game has and will continue to be huge. I can't wait to see where we all go with it."

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