|Jake Muzzin at Kings Camp (photo: C. Ikiri)
On Friday we heard from LA Kings head coach Terry Murray, who shared some of his concerns with prospect Jake Muzzin’s development in Manchester last year – although, overall, he said Muzzin has “definitely come a long way.”
The 22-year old defenseman also stopped by MayorsManor to joke about his dislike for Tyler Toffoli and explained his rough play against the reigning OHL scoring champion during last Monday’s scrimmage game.
Now, let’s move on to the more important side of things. Hey Jake, what’s up with that hair? He was sporting a mini-afro at Development Camp, quite the departure from the buzz-look he had when we last saw him in December. Is that the Manchester look?
“I don’t know,” said Muzzin. “I figure I’m going to lose it someday. So, I might as well grow it right now.”
He played 11 games in Los Angeles last season before being sent to the AHL for the rest of the campaign. Originally signed by the Kings as a free agent in January 2010, he hopes to one day make it back to the NHL.
Yet, that road may have hit a speed bump earlier this month when Alec Martinez signed a two-year deal, essentially locking up all six starting jobs for defensemen on the Kings roster.
“Marty came up and played well. He deserves what he has,” responded Muzzin. “I just need to continue to build and grow. Marty played in the AHL for a few years (too). We’ll see how my season goes this year. After that, we’ll see what happens. I just need to continue building in the AHL (for now).”
Kings assistant coach John Stevens had spent some time reviewing video with Muzzin before he was sent down in mid-November. Was there anything specific they asked him to work on?
“Just go down there with a good attitude and stay positive,” was the most important message, according to Muzzin. “Plays down low, in the d-zone,” he went on to add. “Positioning is huge in the NHL. If you’re out of position, they’re going to make you pay. Some of my mistakes were being out of position. It was a learning curve for me.”
The talented blueliner, voted as Best Defensive Defenseman in the 2009-10 OHL Coaches Poll, also knew there was more work to do after his limited time with the Kings last season – “You can see it when you play (in the NHL) – every pass is on, every shift is hard. You have to take that mentality down to Manchester and continue to do those little things that are going to help you get back up (to the NHL).”
He benefited from some of the other defensemen in Manchester too, guys who already had a season of pro under their belts (i.e. Thomas Hickey, Andrew Campbell, etc.). “A lot of it is mental. Being ready to play every game,” explained Muzzin. “We play a lot more games (than in junior). We play a lot of three (games) in three (days), four in fives. Looking after your body, looking after yourself off the ice, to be ready to perform on the ice has been big. Also, some little things that they like to do helped me out and stuff that I like to do helped them. We feed off each other, we’re all down there helping each other.”
That positive view is something Muzzin tries to incorporate into his overall outlook on the process of becoming a pro. Even when reflecting on the news of being sent down, he took it in stride – “It’s a part of being a hockey player. You can look at it negatively and you are disappointed that you’re going down, but you have to continue to grow as a player, and as a human off the ice. So, I went down there and had a lot of fun and it was a good time.”
Putting it all together, Muzzin still sees himself as a work in progress though. “Mentally, it’s (about) consistently wanting to improve, you have to want to improve. So, don’t just go on the ice and go through the motions. You have to get better and better every time. On the ice, it’s (about) skating, being aware, composure with the puck, stuff like that. It’s all about growing and being more confident playing at the pro level.”
And it certainly showed in the first scrimmage game of camp. He was noticeably a step ahead of most of the other players out there. However, he maintained a sense of humility about it when asked – “Yes, I felt good. It was a little scrambly. The guys, we’ve never played together. For some of the guys, it was their first game all summer. So, timing and positioning could be a little off. But, I felt good.”
One of the many skills he put on display during his brief time with the Kings last season was an ability to get his shot through to the net – something he explained in detail – “Nowadays, everyone is blocking shots. It’s really hard to get the puck through. As a d-man, the guys are coming out, they’re covering lanes, they’re doing whatever to block the shots. So, you don’t have all the time in the world to take a big slap shot every time. You have to have a quick snapshot and get it through that first layer and see what happens. If you get it on net, you get a rebound, you get a tip, you get a screen – some float in, some you hang around there and create an offensive chance. For d-men, the big, big key is just to get it past that first layer. Sometimes a little snap shot is what it takes instead of a big slap shot.”
Look for that snap shot to be on full display again when Rookie Camp rolls around in September.
If you missed coach Murray talking about the camp performances of Muzzin and Nic Deslauriers, click here. Or check out some of the other camp related links below.