Monday, June 24, 2024

Ducks’ Trevor Zegras excited to be back, ready to work on defense

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  • The Kings’ Drew Doughty, left, handles the puck with the...

    The Kings’ Drew Doughty, left, handles the puck with the Ducks’ Frank Vatrano in pursuit during the first period of their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. The Kings won, 4-1. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Kings’ Adrian Kempe, right, and the Ducks’ Max Jones...

    The Kings’ Adrian Kempe, right, and the Ducks’ Max Jones battle for control of the puck during the first period of their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Ducks’ Radko Gudas handles the puck during their preseason game against the Kings on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Kings goalie Cam Talbot deflects a shot by the Ducks’...

    Kings goalie Cam Talbot deflects a shot by the Ducks’ Ryan Strome during the first period of their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    Kings goaltender Cam Talbot looks on during a pause in play in their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Kings’ Jordan Spence, left, and the Ducks’ Brock McGinn...

    The Kings’ Jordan Spence, left, and the Ducks’ Brock McGinn (26) battle for the puck along the boards during the first period of their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    Kings goaltender Cam Talbot, right, stops a shot by Ducks left wing Max Jones (49) during the first period of their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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    The Ducks’ Nikita Nesterenko, right, drives a shot high as the Kings’ Vladislav Gavrikov defends during the first period of their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Ducks’ Olle Eriksson Ek shoots the puck during their...

    The Ducks’ Olle Eriksson Ek shoots the puck during their preseason game against the Kings on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    Kings left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois (80) controls the puck against the Ducks’ Zack Kassian (44) during the first period of their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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    Ducks goaltender John Gibson, left, deflects a shot during the first period of their preseason game against the Kings on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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    Kings left wing Kevin Fiala, center, celebrates with left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois, left, and defenseman Drew Doughty after scoring a goal during the first period of their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings defenseman Drew Doughty handles the puck during their preseason...

    Kings defenseman Drew Doughty handles the puck during their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    Kings defenseman Drew Doughty handles the puck during their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Kings’ Matt Roy, left, and the Ducks’ Nikita Nesterenko look for the puck during their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Ducks’ Radko Gudas changes direction to collect the puck during their preseason game against the Kings on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Kings’ Vladislav Gavrikov takes a shot during their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Kings’ Mikey Anderson handles the puck during their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    Kings defenseman Drew Doughty kneels during a pause in the action in their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Kings’ Andreas Englund, left, and the Ducks’ Sam Carrick make contact along the boards during their preseason game on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Ducks’ Brett Leason skates during their preseason game against the Kings on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Kings’ Andreas Englund collects the puck during their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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    The Kings’ Kevin Fiala warms up before their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Kings defenseman Drew Doughty warms up before their preseason game...

    Kings defenseman Drew Doughty warms up before their preseason game against the Ducks on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

LOS ANGELES –– For one of the NHL’s worst defensive teams in recent memory, more of the same might not have been all that welcome.

While that was the case, in part, Tuesday night when the Ducks fell behind the Kings by three goals less than 12 minutes into the first period of a 4-1 preseason loss at Crypto.com Arena, they were thrilled earlier in the day by another familiar sight, when their leading scorer Trevor Zegras rejoined them for the first time since training camp officially opened.

Zegras, who signed a three-year contract extension worth $17.25 million on Monday, was received by the group Tuesday with stick taps, high-fives and warm embraces, and he needed only the slightest bit of coaxing to return the love.

“I missed my teammates, that’s for sure. I love these guys,” Zegras said. “They’ve been so good to me, so supportive during the whole thing. It’s definitely exciting to be back.”

Zegras, 22, did not play in Tuesday’s exhibition when the Ducks had this year’s No. 2 overall draft pick Leo Carlsson centering their top line once again and winger Brett Leason scored their solitary goal. They were done in early by a Kevin Fiala wraparound goal that gave Pierre-Luc Dubois his first preseason point as a King, then Adrian Kempe’s one-timer from the bottom of the right circle for a power-play goal and, lastly, Carl Grundstrom’s insurance goal, which was the Kings’ second score in 25 seconds. Grundstrom and Trevor Lewis also both assisted on Blake Lizotte’s third-period goal.

As one might have already deduced, defensive play is an area of emphasis essentially team-wide for the Ducks, and Zegras is eons from an exception. The three-year term of his contract – he could have signed for as many as eight seasons – was designed in part to allow him to round out his game, General Manager Pat Verbeek indicated.

Zegras had a team-high 65 points last season – a career-high 42 assists and 23 goals – but he was minus-24 while averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time per game. He said he is eager to set out on the path to playing a comprehensive game.

“It was a big thing with the contract, obviously, was playing the two-way game and figuring out both sides of the puck,” said Zegras, who could see the ice for the team’s final two preseason games later this week before their Oct. 14 season opener at Vegas. “That was a big emphasis from [Verbeek’s] point of view, and if you want to play in this league, it’s something you have to commit to.”

Zegras expressed confidence in the Ducks’ new head coach, Greg Cronin, as the man to help mold his game and reinvigorate the team’s defensive efforts.

“Right when he was announced as head coach, he made a trip from Colorado all the way back to Boston. He drove and met with a bunch of guys and I got to sit down with him for a couple hours and talk. I went down to Florida and met him there, too,” Zegras said. “So I feel like we have a pretty good relationship to start things off. Systems are going to be something that I’m going to have to pick up on, but I have a lot of good teammates in here who are definitely going to help me out.”

One teammate who is not around to help Zegras presently is defenseman Jamie Drysdale, who has also been engaged in contract talks with Verbeek.

“I talk to Jamie pretty much everyday. Obviously going through this is tough and when you’ve got your best buddy going through it too, it makes it a lot easier,” Zegras said.

For Cronin’s part, he was enthused by those early meetings with Zegras and ready to embark on a journey to making him a “three-zone, 200-foot” force.

“Very likable guy, lots of energy, very confident and I think he’s coachable. That’s really what you’re looking for when you’re building relationships,” Cronin said. “He’s such a talented offensive player and I think that we’ve been trying to value his play away from the puck. He acknowledges that, and it’s an easy thing to talk about, but you actually have to do it.”

The word “maturity” has been used frequently in discussing areas where Zegras needs to continue to advance, something Verbeek described as being no different from any other player. But the process might be a bit more pronounced for Zegras, and his talent is certainly unlike all but a select few of his peers. That’s also been part of what’s proven polarizing as his flashy play, which includes lacrosse-style puck handling and other gaudy moves, has raised eyebrows as well.

Former Kings winger and current television analyst Anson Carter likened the plight of Zegras to that of another star, one approaching the cusp of one of hockey’s most hallowed records, Wayne Gretzky’s 894 career goals.

“Go back to when [Alex Ovechkin] first came in the league. There was a lot of hate toward his game, too, about how excited he was to celebrate and jump on the glass, and people would be so upset about his youthful energy,” Carter said. “As time went on, they began to appreciate how passionate he was about playing the game. I think the same thing might end up happening with Trevor Zegras, too.”

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