“I just came up with something on the spot,” the 21-year-old Anaheim Ducks center said last month. “I don’t know, let your instincts take over.”
Although Zegras has become the unofficial face of trick shots in the NHL, he’s not alone. Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, 22, twice has scored a lacrosse-style goal, known as “The Michigan” — against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 29, 2019, and against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 17, 2019.
Video: [email protected]: Svechnikov nets second lacrosse-style goal
And with a new wave of young stars coming into the League, we can expect more. Bring them on, NHL players say.
“It’s always fun seeing guys do different moves that are effective, right?” Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “[Florida Panthers center Aleksander] Barkov had a goal last year where he put the puck behind his back while he was skating forward and backhanded it in, stuff like that.
“Even when I do something like a spin-o-rama, it could be known as a flashy play but it’s effective because you’re protecting the puck, the guy can’t get the puck from my body from that position. If I have a guy driving back, I could pass it or shoot it. I like those plays that have some meaning to them.”
Zegras’ first venture into the trick-shot realm came not on a goal, but on an assist last season. Controlling the Puck behind the Buffalo Sabers net on Dec. 7, Zegras Flipped the Puck over the net to Sonny Milano, who batted it into the goal. It’s Jan. 27, he scored a lacrosse-style goal against the Montreal Canadiens. On April 1, Zegras pulled another “Michigan” — so named because it was made famous by University of Michigan player Mike Legg on March 24, 1996 — against the Arizona Coyotes.
Video: [email protected]: Zegras lobs Unreal pass for Milano
The showmanship was top notch at the 2022 NHL All-Star Skills at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Feb. 4. New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes21, had a mini version of himself — Brekken Scoppetto, 10-year-old son of Devils equipment manager Chris Scoppetto — came out of a box and scored, and the two performed identical stick tosses. Zegras dressed as Peter La FleurVince Vaughn’s character from the 2004 Comedy “Dodgeball,” wore a white Blindfold and, with NHL mascots throwing dodgeballs at him, lifted the Puck on his stick, did a 360-degree spin and reversed back to score.
Then-Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat, now with the Ottawa Senators, channeled his inner Alan from the 2009 Comedy “The Hangover,” complete with baby carrier. Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr threw a football to the 24-year-old, who carried it before knocking it into the net with a backhand shot off his stick.
The Spectacular goals and creativity that come with them are part of the next generation of NHL players, Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele said.
“You watch them in practice and it’s something that comes naturally to them,” said Scheifele, 29. “I’ve tried some of that stuff and, yeah, I can do it, but it’s not natural. You have to really think about it. These guys just do it on command so, it’s pretty impressive. They obviously have a lot of skill. They have a lot of skill with that stick and puck and it’s definitely fun to watch.”
New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba and Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki said players around the NHL notice the trick shots and talk about them in locker rooms. But Suzuki said he won’t be trying one anytime soon.
“It might go through my head a couple of times as they come around the net, but he’s (Zegras) so good at it,” said Suzuki, 23, who saw it firsthand when Zegras scored his “Michigan” against the Canadiens. “You can practice it all you want, but when it comes to the game, it’s different, and for him to do it multiple times it’s pretty special.”
Granted, they’re not popular with everyone. While an Analyst for ESPN last season, John Tortorella, now Coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, said he wasn’t a fan of the Zegras-Milano goal.
“I’m not trying to be difficult about it,” Tortorella, 64, said Dec. 10. “It’s fun to watch, it’s really cool, but I just think our game has gone so far away from what the game should be. A hard game, an honest game. It’s almost gotten to showman. I know you need to have it, you need to sell the game, but I’m from the ilk that an honest hockey game needs to be played.”
Blackhawks forward Max Domi said he used to try trick shots when he was younger but not anymore. He’s not the biggest fan of them either.
“I don’t hate it at all, I think it’s great if you want to do it,” said Domi, 27. “I just think there are other things you’d want to work on. There’s enough fundamental skills we have to spend our time working on. I always chirped ‘Svech’ about it in Carolina (last season). I’d be like, ‘You going to pick it up, Svech?’ He’s a great kid, so much talent, so much skill. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. I’m an in-betweener.”
Kane said working on trick shots was frowned upon when he was growing up and that “we never did anything like that.” So why is it a bigger part of the game for the NHL’s Younger players? It’s part of the practice repertoire for some, including Zegras, who said he’ll “try some funny stuff” in the first five minutes of a skate. Are younger players just willing to experiment, take more risks?
“I don’t know where that came from,” said Kane, 33. “Now you see certain things like the way [Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney] Crosby skated with opening up his hips. That was something I never did as a kid either, and now you see a lot of these guys who are great skaters are able to do that and do it with some power, like [Minnesota Wild forward Kirill] Kaprizov or [Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale] Makar So, it’s pretty impressive to watch stuff like that.
“It seems like Younger players watch players in the NHL that they like and pick up certain things, but I’m not really sure where picking up all that stuff came from and how it became effective. But Svechnikov did it a couple of times, too, right? So maybe someone like Zegras sees it effective and starts to master it even more.”
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenskiwho skated with Zegras in Michigan during the offseason, said Zegras is working on completing “The Michigan” off the rush.
“I saw it a few times this summer. He’s been working on some things,” Werenski said. “He just, he doesn’t miss. I was asking what his next move is, and he was like, ‘I want to try this this year.’ He showed me it, and it worked perfectly the first time he did it. I can’t even explain what it is, but I have a feeling it’s going to come from him this year.”
The trick shots seem like they’re here to stay. Sure, there’s a degree of difficulty and risk that comes with them, but they’re entertaining and if it ends with a goal, it’s worth the attempt. Outside of Zegras’ latest spin is “The Michigan,” nobody can say what the next trick-shot goal will end up being.
And it may not be from Zegras. Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachukwho has scored more than once with a between-the-legs shot, said he expects some new trickery this season.
Video: [email protected]: Tkachuk goes between his legs for OT Winner
“‘The Michigan’ has been scored a lot since Svechnikov, people score through the legs,” said Tkachuk, 24. “We have yet to see a behind-the-back, but that’s pretty risky. It’s hard. I’m sure there’s going to be something like kicking it in the air to your stick.
“I think what people realize is guys aren’t doing it to show off. I think they’ve just done it their whole lives and are used to it and that gives them the best chance to score.”
NHL.com Editor-in-Chief Bill Price, columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika and staff Writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this report