Don’t look now, but Trevor Zegras may be approaching the top tier of “most marketable” among NHL players.
Who is the NHL’s most marketable star? The answer may vary depending on who you ask. Is it Edmonton Oilers’ star phenom, Connor McDavid, who dazzles on a nightly basis with his end-to-end, highlight-reel goals? Or perhaps it’s Auston Matthews, the talented American forward who plays for a Canadian powerhouse and has a good shot at winning the Hart Trophy this season. Maybe it’s the Washington Capitals’ prolific winger Alex Ovechkin, who continues to defy Father Time en route to overtaking Wayne Gretzky’s scoring record.
The answer may be found in the confines of Orange County in the 20-year-old Zegras. The Anaheim Ducks forward has wowed fans around the globe with the series of creative moves he has both attempted and accomplished this season.
Zegras Combines Flair and Fun
First, there was the lacrosse-style alley-oop assist (now officially coined the “Dishigan” according to the primary source) to teammate Sonny Milano against the Buffalo Sabres in December that broke the internet. Zegras had pulled off the unthinkable. A successful flip pass from behind the net, over the goalie? While many took to social media in disbelief over the play, others weren’t as impressed.
After the game, former NHL head coach and current ESPN analyst John Tortorella said that plays like the one Zegras and Milano pulled off weren’t “good for the game of hockey”. Given the brand of hockey played by teams that were coached by Tortorella, the fact that he held this opinion wasn’t a surprise.
“That’s Torts, man,” said Zegras when asked about Tortorella’s thoughts while talking to Sean Gentille and Hailey Salvian on The Athletic Hockey Show. “He’s always got his own opinion, whether everyone else likes it or not — which I actually respect about him. I guess he keeps stirring the pot.”
It’s difficult to put a damper on anything Zegras does, though. He refers to everyone from his teammates to the general manager as “dude” and can’t get enough of Chipotle, even getting his own signature burrito bowl on their menu during the 2021 World Junior Championships.
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The way Zegras goes about his business is exactly the type of personality the NHL needs to market the heck out of. That’s not to say they shouldn’t promote players like McDavid or Matthew more—they haven’t done that well in that regard either—but Zegras’ fingerprints have been all over the NHL social media sphere this season.
There’s a reason he was invited to All-Star Weekend as a special guest for the Breakaway Challenge. Speaking of which, have you seen what he pulled off for his attempt?
While the other attempts were nothing to scoff at (I thoroughly enjoyed Kirill Kaprizov’s tribute to Ovechkin), Zegras managed to pull off another move that few would even think to attempt.
Sure, he might have been able to see through the blindfold, but the hand-eye and soft hands needed to even pull off those series of moves and the shot without a blindfold is already impressive enough. Now try doing that while dodging a series of balls being thrown at you by a crowd of unruly mascots.
There have only been four lacrosse-style goals (also known as the “Michigan”) scored in the history of the NHL. Andrei Svechnikov pulled it off first—and did it again later that season—and Filip Forsberg followed suit the following season. The fourth member of that prestigious club is Zegras, who pulled it off in January against the Montreal Canadiens.
After attempting the “Michigan” last season just four games into his NHL career—he also tried it in the 2021 World Juniors—it was always a matter of “when” and not “if” when it came to Zegras pulling off the lacrosse-style goal.
A Star in the Making
Zegras certainly matches his personality with his skills on the ice—plenty of eye-catching moments. After declaring that Team Canada and their goaltender Devon Levi had not yet been truly tested ahead of their gold medal matchup versus Team USA during the 2021 World Juniors, many scoffed at the arrogance that emanated from Zegras’ statement. How could he possibly think that about one of the best teams of the tournament?
Perhaps he was right, as the U.S. triumphed 2-0 over Canada. Zegras scored the second goal and was named the tournament’s MVP, to boot, after putting up 18 points in seven games.
While Zegras’ college hockey career was cut short thanks to his absence during the World Juniors along with the pandemic, he still managed to finish second in assists and third in points during his one season at Boston University before turning pro. He also recorded five three-point games and was named a finalist for Hockey East Rookie of the Year.
Now, Zegras continues to dazzle on a nightly basis for the Ducks. After an up and down (literally) first season in 2020-21 where he spent time in both the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL), he has blossomed into one of the Ducks’ premier playmakers in 2021-22.
Currently second on the team in goals, assists and points, Zegras’ fingerprints are all over the Ducks’ offense. He’s also become an integral part of the power play and is second on the team in power play goals with six. He’s scored three of those in the past four games alone, with the first of those being a go-ahead goal with 21.6 seconds remaining in the third period.
A top candidate to win the Calder Memorial Trophy this season, Zegras is tied for second among rookies in total points and tied for the lead in game-winning goals among rookies with four. He also has the second-highest time on ice among rookie forwards (17:25). While he hasn’t gotten full free reign from head coach Dallas Eakins just yet, that could change next season, whether Eakins—who is in the final year of his contract— is behind the bench or not.
Zegras Fits the Social Media Mold
Zegras has the skills and he certainly has the personality to be a marketable persona. The Ducks have quickly realized this and have been leaning into the Zegras content train more and more as this season has progressed. You’d be hard-pressed to not find at least one Zegras-related piece of content per week on the Ducks’ social media outlets. The guy’s even got his very own custom shirt.
Given his age, it’s a strong possibility that Zegras will be in the league for quite some time. It would be a prudent move for the NHL social media team to go all-in on the crown jewel they’ve been presented with in terms of content.
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As the league transitions to more youth, skill and speed, having a player like Zegras—who embodies all of these attributes—at the forefront of their marketing campaign could do wonders for growing the game across the country and around the world.