REGINA – Trevor Zegras can’t pinpoint the precise moment he started working on the move that immediately caught the attention of those who pay attention to the NHL.
But the highly-skilled Anaheim Ducks centre made it clear during a recent visit to Winnipeg that The Michigan was a skill that he’d been working on for a long time and took countless hours to perfect before he had the confidence to try it in a game.
“I don’t know. I was still in middle school maybe. Or high school. So at a pretty young age,” Zegras told a fellow Winnipeg reporter who was kind enough to ask the questions as I got over a recent bout of COVID-19. “It’s pretty funny actually. Growing up, we had built an outdoor rink in my backyard. It wasn’t big, but it was good enough that I could skate around and put the net in the middle and try some of those moves.
“It took me a while. It probably took me years and years. I was always able to do it if I was just standing around in my driveway or on the rink that my pops made me and what-not. But I could never do it in a game until that game against the Canadiens. That was the first time that I’ve done it (in a game).”
That game against the Montreal Canadiens was back in January of 2022 and the lacrosse goal he delivered – first made famous by University of Michigan Wolverines forward Mike Legg in an NCAA game in 1996 – was something that was so impressive, you had to watch it in slow motion to believe that it actually happened.
To be able to scoop up the puck in one motion and basically at full speed, cradle it and stuff it in on an unsuspecting goalie not only requires an inordinate amount of skill, but also plenty of courage because the act leaves the puck handling player in a somewhat vulnerable position to be hit – provided the defender anticipates the play might be coming.
That hasn’t been a deterrent for Zegras, who pulled off another one of the remarkable goals earlier this month against the Minnesota Wild, only to see the highlight-reel marker taken off the board after a successful coach’s challenge for offside.
Zegras also used a modified version of The Michigan to get the puck from behind the goal line out to Sonny Milano for a marker last season, just to keep the opposition guessing.
That lacrosse style motion sparked a revolution for hockey players of all ages who now spend countless hours trying to mimic the move Zegras made popular.
Is it strange for Zegras, who is just 21 years old, to have a move that so many aspiring players are trying to copy?
After all, it’s not that long ago Zegras was in a similar position, out in his backyard, testing out some of the things that young NHL stars were pulling off.
“I mean, it’s definitely pretty cool. It’s not something that I’m thinking about. I was one of those kids that saw something cool and tried to do it,” said Zegras, who was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy last season after producing 23 goals and 61 points in 75 games. “Like the (Patrick Kane) Spin-o-Rama or anything of that stuff. It’s cool to be on the other side of that, for sure.”
Now Zegras isn’t a guy who is known for having just one move, even if it is all the rage.
“We all know he’s a dynamic player,” said Eakins. “This kid can do anything with the puck. His vision on the ice is incredible. The thing that’s getting lost with him right now is he’s quietly getting much better at things that are important to winning the games. A lot of these games in this league come down to one moment. It could be a skating pick that gets you out of your zone. It could be getting to the net. It could be a fast reload (where) you disrupt an odd-man rush. It could be as simple as putting the puck down below the goal line when the other team has done a good job.
“We’re seeing him make really good strides in those areas. He’s a guy that’s going to have the puck a lot. He’s going to turn over the puck. He is. If we’re going to ask Trevor to just come up to the red line and dump it in all the time, we’re going to be in big trouble. He’s really getting a good gauge on what it takes to not only be a very good player in this league, but to have championship habits.”
Zegras had one of those turnovers on the game-winning goal by Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor late in Thursday’s game.
Connor had applied some pressure down low on the forecheck and Zegras was unable to get the puck out of the zone past Jets defenceman Neal Pionk.
This is where Zegras, the emerging leader, stepped up during his post-game session with reporters.
“Just tired of losing games like that. We were right in it the whole way. It feels like we’ve been on the wrong end of so many of these games. I feel for everybody. It’s getting old, for sure,” said Zegras, who has eight goals and 16 points in 18 games this season. “We played 59 good minutes. I make a bad play on the wall and miss my guy going to the front of the net and the game’s over, I would say it’s kind of on me.”
Accountability is another important quality, especially for an emerging star in an organization that’s going through a bit of a changing of the guard after former captain Ryan Getzlaf retired at the end of last season.
Zegras is happy to be in the group of those working to fill the void and chart a new path for the franchise.
“I don’t know. I try not to think about it,” said Zegras. “Obviously, it was unbelievable for me to catch a bit of Getzlaf’s career. Growing up, he was somebody that when you thought of the Anaheim Ducks, it was Ryan Getzlaf. I learned a lot from him.
“Guys have got to step up and be leaders. Obviously, he had played a big role on this team. He did it all for us. Us young guys tried to learn as much as we can from him and then go from there. We’ve added a bunch of guys from last year that are tremendous hockey players. Those guys all bring their own playbook and stuff to learn from. Constant growth, like you said.”
COULD EHLERS INJURY SPARK A MOVE?
On Saturday morning, Jets head coach Rick Bowness announced that forward Nikolaj Ehlers would require surgery for a sports hernia and would be sidelined indefinitely.
Ehlers has been limited to two games this season and hasn’t played since Oct. 17, missing 13 games and counting.
Although it’s going to take a while before his timetable to return is clearer, Ehlers won’t be back until at least the new year and while the team has done a nice job of stepping up in his absence, the Jets are now down three Top-9 forwards long term.
That’s an awfully big burden to carry and while the Jets have done a nice job when it comes to improving their structure, goal scoring hasn’t come easily this season.
Of course, that’s a natural development when a team is working on its commitment without the puck but right now the Jets are tied with the St. Louis Blues for 22nd in the NHL in goals per game (2.88, which is 46 in 16 games).
When you consider the Jets have a surplus of defencemen in the system right now, it stands to reason that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is likely working the phones looking for a deal that makes sense.
Complicating matters somewhat is that defenceman Dylan DeMelo missed the past two games with what is being called a minor upper-body injury and Logan Stanley remains on IR with a foot issue.
Thanks to a 10-5-1 start that has them right in the thick of things in the Central Division standings, making a move for a forward doesn’t need to happen immediately but it remains a priority.
WHEELER SENDS HIS BEST
Longtime Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler was asked for his thoughts on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers pursuit of a third consecutive Grey Cup in Regina and you could tell he’s been paying attention to what head coach Mike O’Shea, general manager Kyle Walters and CEO Wade Miller have built.
“Incredible accomplishment. I’ve heard a little bit about some of the principles that they have, the type of culture they’ve built over there,” Wheeler told reporters. “It’s really impressive any time you’re able to compete for a championship, let alone three in a row. It’s a real testament to what you’ve built over there. We’re certainly big fans of theirs and will be cheering for them.”
Following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bowness also sent his well wishes to O’Shea and the Blue Bombers as he closed out his session with reporters.
If you’re looking for further proof that not every long losing skid requires a coaching change, look no further than the St. Louis Blues. After opening the campaign 3-0, the Blues dropped eight consecutive games in regulation, only to respond by rattling off six victories in a row to jump back into a wild card spot going into Sunday’s action. Prior to getting things turned around, the Blues had fallen 11 points out of first place in the Central and are now within six points. Such is life in the topsy turvy NHL, where that line between winning and losing remains razor thin…Staying in the Central, Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson continues to ride the wave, extending his point streak to 11 games on Saturday against the New York Islanders. Robertson has accumulated 10 goals and 20 points during the streak and is sixth in NHL scoring, seven points behind Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid. Speaking of McDavid, how about the explosive move through the neutral zone and nifty move to flip the puck over the glove of Vegas Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill? McDavid is up to 16 goals on the season and continues to lead the NHL in that category…Over to the masked men, some folks thought the Colorado Avalanche were taking a bit of a risk in making a trade with the New York Rangers to bring in Alexandar Georgiev to replace Darcy Kuemper, who signed with the Washington Capitals as an unrestricted free agent after helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in June. While it’s still early, it looks like it was an astute pickup by Joe Sakic and Chris MacFarland. Georgiev had a 32-save shutout on Saturday as he improved to 8-2-1 on the season, lowering his goals-against average to 2.45 while raising his save percentage to .930 – which leaves him tied for third in the NHL in that category. Georgiev is also seventh in the NHL in goals saved above expected, according to MoneyPuck.