It's What's Up, What's Down: yet another effort in sports journalism to deliver information through a simple and easily understandable medium. Here we look at the players, teams and things building toward something — and the players, teams, and things accomplishing squat.
Whatever it is, Trevor Zegras has it.
If you were previously unfamiliar with him, the NHL's next most marketable and scorching young talent offered a glimpse into his extraordinary hockey mind on Tuesday with a set-up for teammate Sonny Milano straight out of your favourite childhood hockey movie.
Speaking purely to skill, this goal has nothing on the tasting menu provided by Connor McDavid so far this season. In fact, the pick-up is a basic trick that just about any NHLer and most minor hockey players could manage in the time and space provided at a practice, or when looking to assist an official with a retrieval between whistles. It's everything else that went into the highlight which helps it close the gap when assessing the very best from the season so far.
The first thing that stands out is the sheer audacity to try the move. We often see players try to scoop the puck while circling the net at full speed, but in reality it's a low-risk decision because failure only results in maintained possession. By soft-tossing it in front, Zegras is fully committed to the attempt, of course, and at risk of wasting possession of the puck in a high-danger area.
The result is likely just that — a waste — if there isn't some degree of communication between Zegras and Milano. For Milano to pounce all over the pass without hesitation, it suggests this was ideated beforehand, and is therefore even more impressive as a premeditated strike.
For me, though, it's what happened next that truly elevates Zegras as one of the game's next most-watchable talents. His mouth hanging open before his hands reach his head in amazement, Zegras shows viewers how to celebrate his sensational set-up and the move that probably elevates him as the favourite for the Calder Trophy.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) December 8, 2021
It continued on the bench.
Zegras' reaction to that goal is killing me 😂 pic.twitter.com/S3KyEkseD7
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 8, 2021
Keep in mind: this was a nationally televised game on ESPN — and presumably one of the few Anaheim will be featured on. The move, the reaction, the rare instance of an NHL player revelling in the incredible things they are doing while they are doing it, this is exactly the sort of thing that the NHL and its broadcasting partners are desperate for more of.
And I can't help but think it was all deliberate on the part of Zegras, which makes it that much more special.
Then, like a boxer nailing their post-fight interview, Zegras continued to endear himself on the broadcast after the game, cracking jokes with ESPN's more playful play-by-play man, John Buccigross, about eating Boston Cream donuts at Tim Horton's earlier that day before breaking down the goal.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) December 8, 2021
Once a game, it seems, Zegras does something worth salivating over. It doesn't always result in a highlight-reel goal that will excite all corners of Hockey Twitter, but when it does, Zegras understands how to maximize those moments.
It's a rare skill in the NHL these days, and one of the reasons why Zegras is emerging as a key talent for the league and its partners to build up.
Up: Zegras's Calder case
As mentioned, Zegras has overtaken fellow rookie Lucas Raymond in the Calder Trophy odds. While Raymond has slumped with the Detroit Red Wings, Zegras has matched him for the rookie lead in points, counting his 22nd on the Milano set-up.
The tear Zegras has been on features eight assists in his last four games, including a three-apple evening versus the Vegas Golden Knights.
Somewhat surprisingly, the price on Zegras to win the award is a little better than it was in the preseason, and before he pulled well ahead of fellow countryman Cole Caulfield.
It might be worth jumping on the price while it lasts.
Up: Matthews's Rocket chase
From a newly marketable U.S. star to the one that shines the brightest, Auston Matthews is beginning to reclaim his position as the game's marquee sniper. Falling well behind Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin after missing the start of the season, then easing his way out of an early-season funk, Matthews has had goals in seven straight games and 10 goals and 13 points overall across that surge.
What's most impressive is that he's kept building over the last three games despite the Zegras to his Milano, Mitch Marner, exiting the lineup with injury. He's been on the end of exceptional set-ups, most notably the Marner-esque feed from Michael Bunting the other night, but Matthews has pulled his game back to a level where any time he touches the puck, it feels like it's going to hit the back of the opponent's net.
Matthews is only four goals behind the slumping Draisaitl for the NHL lead and three behind the brilliant Ovechkin. While neither is going to slow down for long, and Marner's weeks-long absence is less than ideal, I could see Matthews fly by them both before we ring in the new year.
He might be worth a wager as well.
Down: The process in Philly
It seems safe to say the latest efforts to rehabilitate the Flyers have failed.
In many ways Vancouver East, the Flyers followed suit earlier this week with half measures, firing Alain Vigneault and replacing the former head coach on an interim basis with assistant coach Mike Yeo.
The first go with Yeo resulted in another seven goals conceded and a ninth-straight loss.
While perhaps the correct move, the issues in Philadelphia run far deeper than coaching. Misevaluations, poor performances, and an aging core group suggest that this is another team begging to be torn down.
With several key pending unrestricted free agents, including captain Claude Giroux, it'll be fascinating to see how the Flyers handle the remainder of the season.
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