On Sept. 19, the Anaheim Ducks faced off against the Colorado Avalanche as part of this year’s rookie showcase tournament. For fans, their joy of hockey being back was quickly overshadowed by fear when the Ducks’ top prospect, Trevor Zegras, got injured early in the game. After ultimately being cleared of injuries, this led to speculation on why top prospects are suiting up for these games and if Anaheim should rethink the importance of this tournament.
Zegras has proven himself as an ideal part of the Ducks’ roster. The former first-round draft pick is almost all but sure going to be the first-line center for this upcoming season. However, due to his age and status in the league, he was still available to play in this tournament. The tournament is a way for younger players to shake some rust off before training camp officially starts, but, for Zegras, this also comes with the risk of a completely unnecessary injury. For Anaheim, this almost became a reality.
During a game against the Avalanche, Zegras was slashed and required help to leave the ice. The play did not appear on the live stream, so it came as a surprise to many. He did not return to play as a precaution.
Not the First Time for the Ducks
Now, this isn’t the first time Anaheim has seen one of their highly regarded prospects suffer an injury in this tournament. During the 2016 Rookie Showcase, Ducks forward Nic Kerdiles (36th-overall pick in 2012) suffered a concussion after being boarded by Nikita Zadorov. This hit led to a major penalty and Krediles needing assistance to leave the ice. At the time of this injury, the Anaheim forward, “was returning to action after a concussion and other injuries limited him to 45 games last season.” (from “Nic Kerdiles gets hurt as Ducks give up third-period goal, lose to Avalanche,” Orange County Register, Sept. 18, 2016)
This injury saw some fans call out that NHL-ready or almost ready prospects should be limited in these showcases. Following this injury, Kerdiles was never really able to find his feet in the NHL. He only played in three NHL games and retired in 2019. Although this was ultimately more severe than what happened to Zegras, it still shows that there is a risk for putting high-ranking prospects in these tournaments.
After this most recent scare, the question remains — is there a better way to get prospects playing time? The answer is yes. This season, the Ducks play seven preseason games. These games would provide ample time for the younger players to get their legs under them before they either made the team, were sent to affiliates or back to their junior teams.
Players like Zegras can and probably should still participate in rookie camps, but that should be the extent of their involvement. For Zegras, his position on the Ducks’ roster should outweigh his status as a rookie. In addition to this, the organization also knows his style of play and his strengths and weaknesses. The only purpose these games could have actually served for him was just simply to get him more ice time.
It seems as if Anaheim is going to take a more cautious approach moving forward. For the game on Sept. 20, the Ducks are holding Mason McTavish and Jamie Drysdale out of the lineup as well as Zegras. This appears to be in direct response to the injury scare. Both Zegras and Drysdale are expected to play large roles for Anaheim this year, while McTavish is making a strong case that he is ready for the NHL.
Overall, Anaheim is lucky that their top prospect is healthy following the most recent scare. Hopefully, this will make the Ducks rethink their approach to developing young, elite NHL talent. Although these players can benefit from this style of tournament, there is a large amount of needless risk that is associated with it. Young players are desperate to make an impression, which can result in the game getting chippy and dangerous. Moving forward, it would be in the organization’s best interest to prioritize the safety of its future stars.