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New Ducks coach Cronin pushing Zegras to improve defence

Trevor Zegras Ducks Trevor Zegras - The Canadian Press

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — New Anaheim Ducks coach Greg Cronin knows what Trevor Zegras can do on the offensive end.

During Zegras’ first day at training camp on Tuesday, Cronin sent an early immediate message — he expects significant improvement to Zegras’ defense.

“We were doing some shuffle around the dots. The first thing he did was take my stick and throw it in the corner, which I thought was interesting. But we’ll work through it for sure,” Zegras said after practice.

Zegras and the Ducks agreed to a three-year contract extension on Monday worth $17.25 million. The 22-year-old center missed the first two weeks of training camp and must catch up since Cronin has already installed most of the fundamental pieces to his system.

However, Cronin set an early tone in Zegras’ quest to become a better two-way player.

“He’s extremely talented. He lights up like a Christmas tree when he has the puck because he’s an offensive guy. We’ve got to try and transfer that energy into his defensive habits,” Cronin said about Zegras.

Zegras had a team-high 65 points last season. He set a career-high in assists with 42 and matched his personal best in goals (23). However, he was minus-24 last season while averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time per game.

Cronin isn’t the only one who has discussed defense with Zegras. General manager Pat Verbeek frequently brought it up during contract negotiations.

“There is definitely some catching up to do, but I feel good,” Zegras said. “It’s tough to work on your defensive game in the summer. Getting bigger, stronger and faster usually helps in those areas, so I’m trying to build off what I have and go from there.”

Cronin, hired in June after five seasons coaching the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate, admitted that Zegras could be a work in progress early because he is trying to catch up with all of the early time missed. Cronin met with Zegras a couple of times during the offseason to build an early rapport, but nothing replaces on-ice work.

“I found out right away in some fundamental things, when you play defense without a stick, that his fast twitch does help him close gaps and defend. He’s got to learn some timing issues and some of the technical things that will make him a stiffer defender. But it’s a good start,” Cronin said. “Usually, when you take guys sticks out of their hands, they feel completely naked and vulnerable. He responded pretty well.”

Zegras could see the ice for the team’s final two preseason games later this week against Arizona before the Ducks' Oct. 14 opener at Vegas.

The Ducks had a league-low 58 points last season and have not made the playoffs since 2017-18. Zegras thinks the franchise has a fresh outlook with someone new behind the bench.

“I think bringing in a new coach should rejuvenate and reenergize a lot of guys. You want to leave a good first impression,” Zegras said. “Obviously, (Cronin) has a great track record, and this is his first gig in the NHL. I know he comes with a lot of passion and excitement, so that definitely translates to our squad.”