Ducks’ Zegras focused on improving his defensive game

Ducks' Zegras focused on improving his defensive game

Anaheim Ducks star Trevor Zegras hit the ice Tuesday for the first time since ending his contract stalemate, and the main thing he worked on with new head coach Greg Cronin was his defensive game.

“(Cronin) was telling me how to play defense,” Zegras said with a laugh, according to NHL.com’s Matt Weller. “We were doing some shuffle around the dots, and the first thing he did was take my stick and throw it in the corner, which I thought was definitely interesting, but we’ll work through it for sure.”

Zegras added that a commitment to figuring out his two-way game was “a big thing” when it came to negotiating his new three-year, $17.25-million bridge deal.

“That was a big emphasis from (general manager Pat Verbeek’s) point of view, and if you want to play in this league, it’s something you have to commit to,” he said. “I think Cronin is definitely the guy for that.”

Zegras has had no problem wowing the league with his offensive abilities, but his performance on the other side of the puck hasn’t been going as well through his first three NHL seasons:

Evolving-Hockey

The 22-year-old led the Ducks in giveaways (75) for the second straight campaign in 2022-23, and he owns 158 giveaways in his career compared to just 77 takeaways. Zegras also ranked among the 15 worst skaters in defensive goals above replacement (minus-7.9) last season, per Evolving-Hockey.

Cronin has been working to improve Anaheim’s defensive structure throughout the preseason and says he’s excited to do the same with Zegras now that he’s with the team.

“When I talk to ‘Z,’ I don’t talk to him about his offense,” he said. “He’s a dynamic offensive player. First, get to know the person, then when you sit down and talk to them, you start talking about value systems. Some of these guys that are offensive their whole careers, they just follow the offense. … Just keep focusing on the offense, that’s all you’re going to chase, is offense.”

Cronin continued, “(Zegras’) offense isn’t going away – it’s always going to be there – but we’re going to try to create a focus for him to be defensively responsible. And I guarantee you if he does that, he’ll get more possessions with the puck.”

Getting the puck on Zegras’ stick will only lead to good things for Anaheim. The creative forward paced his teammates with 65 points in 81 games in 2022-23.

Cronin was hired to take over behind the bench in June, and he’s inherited a Ducks team that owned an abysmal goal differential of minus-129 last season.

Puck drops on Anaheim’s 2023-24 regular season Oct. 14 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

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