By now, you’ve all heard the news that Trevor Zegras is making his way into the NHL for his first stint with the parent club, the Anaheim Ducks. Firstly, and most importantly, congratulations are in order for the young man. He’s a star in many fan’s eyes and has hardly put a foot wrong in his short time playing AHL hockey with the San Diego Gulls, posting 9 points (4g, 5a) in 8 games.
The AHL has, for better or worse, turned into a development league of sorts this season, and Zegras is leading it in point production; absolutely crushing it. Following on from his stellar play in the 2021 World Junior Championships, there was no doubt that he was destined for the big show. Simply put, the young man has eye-catch skills and the nous to use them.
His call-up is very likely part of the stimulus that saw veteran Adam Henrique placed on waivers only just the other day. Bob Murray flagged that difficult decisions would be required in order to turn the Ducks’ flagging season around.
"“Adam is not alone in this. But I’m tired of talking and waiting. We need results and difficult decisions must be made.” – Bob Murray to the Athletic"
Questions Surrounding Trevor Zegras
However, there are some questions as to why that is a good idea at this point in time. Those questions have turned what should be a joyous occasion for fans, into one of mixed feelings. I’ll come out and say it. No one, no one at all, thinks that Zegras isn’t capable of making the Anaheim Ducks offense better or could not make the team at the very least interesting to watch. These are not questions that are being asked.
No, the angst fans feel, is that this Ducks season is basically over. Even adding Connor McDavid to the roster isn’t going to push the Anaheim Ducks over the edge and turn them into a credible cup fancy. Thus, one question is whether the Ducks are better off continuing with what they’re doing looking to draft high in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
At present they’re tracking towards a top-3 draft selection and the possibility of another talent of the likes of Zegras or last year’s high selection, Jamie Drysdale. Fans know there is a fine line between becoming the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning. One of those teams has talent on every line and one… Well, sorry Senators fans. If it’s any consolation, you’re the perfect meme team for what not to do regarding team building.
Another question is whether Zegras will be able to effectively harness his skills under the stewardship of current coach Dallas Eakins. So far, Eakins has shown very little ability to develop forwards, thus some fans are apprehensive about his ability to polish Zegras to the point he shines.
Further, the Anaheim Ducks’ entire offensive system revolves around dump and chase hockey. It’s a system that can work for elite passing players, as evidence from Ryan Getzlaf‘s early career can attest to.
However, Getzlaf’s offense has been significantly blunted this current season. Is the issue here that Getzlaf got old and his skills faded, or do the Ducks have issues regaining the lost puck and finishing what chances they get? If the Anaheim Ducks’ current issue is the former, then Zegras has the potential to put up points in bunches.
If the issue is the latter, however, then Zegras doesn’t have the body yet to stand up against big NHL players and isn’t really the finisher the Ducks need, despite his goal the other night showing slick hand-eye coordination.
Anaheim Ducks Coaching Called into Question
One comment that has been bandied about, and I’ll paraphrase is: Zegras will make the Ducks better, and that’s bad because they really need to rebuild in earnest. The high draft picks will help a lot. Eakins could make Zegras worse, and that’s bad because the Anaheim Ducks really need him to be everything he’s advertised to be if they ever want to climb out of the basement.
It’s a legitimate concern and not the only one. Questions should also be raised as to whether Zegras is quite ready to go right now in NHL hockey with as many back-to-back games as are likely to occur in the back half of this season.
We’ve seen his draft colleague, Jack Hughes, struggle in his first NHL season, and now more recently, Alexis Lafreniere, struggle to put up points in his inaugural season. Perhaps a season in the AHL working with professional coaches (no offense to junior hockey coaches and sports scientists) on a full-time basis would have him really shine next season.
Further, is it the best interests of the prospects back in the AHL? Would Jacob Perreault get more benefit rolling through a successful season, picking up chemistry with Zegras than he will do without Zegras? Ditto for Brayden Tracey or Jamie Drysdale.
The crux of the argument, however, is that the Ducks management and coaching staff have lost the unified faith of the fan group. While many fans are still rightfully bullish on Zegras’s debut, a great many are apprehensive based on the track record of these men.
Eakins has a checkered history in both of his NHL coaching stops of poor coaching strategies and ripping apart a dressing room. We’ve seen his strategies in play and they seem spotty at best. We’ve recently heard rumors that Henrique was given very little notice of his demotion from the team. Surely a move that would send ripples through the dressing room.
The Bigger Issues at Hand
Bob Murray has hardly seen a forward develop on his watch. Rickard Rakell has performed excellently over the years despite his drop-off under the current coaching regime. Jakob Silfverberg is the other homegrown (more or less) talent who has performed in a top-6 role. The list after that is pretty barren.
Players like William Karlsson and Kyle Palmieri didn’t make it as Ducks but ended up 30-goal scorers at other hockey clubs. Recent top-10 draft selection Nick Ritchie was almost pushed to play a game that wasn’t in his best interests.
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Fast forward less than a year after his trade and he currently mid-way through a game is sitting on 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in 15 and a half games. Let’s not even discuss his last goal being a tip-in on the power play since the Ducks clearly don’t need help there…. right? It’s also pretty hard to argue that Sam Steel, Max Jones, or Troy Terry have lived up their billing.
In essence, Bob Murray was right. Hard decisions do need to be made. To alleviate the concerns of the fans, the Ducks need a change. That change needs to come from the top, with a brand new management and a brand new coaching staff.
Eventually, fans will be allowed back into Honda Center and if the Anaheim Ducks want them to come back in droves they’ll need to produce a product that fans have confidence in. It’ll have to be fresh and exciting. New and thrilling.
The idea of the best prospect the Ducks have had since Bobby Ryan should be giving each and every fan a euphoric high. That so many are apprehensive is a clear sign that the hard decision Bob Murray alluded to is long overdue.
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