You don’t always get a second chance to make a first impression.
But, 24-year old defenseman Jake Muzzin has done just that over the past four months.
After starting his NHL career coming straight out of training camp in October 2010, he was off to the AHL after only 11 games. During his first stint with the Kings, Muzzin had a single assist and was a minus-2. It easily could have been the end of his NHL dreams. Hundreds, probably thousands, of players before him have kept working hard in the minors, yet never received another call-up.
That wasn’t likely to be the case with the Ontario, Canada native. At 6-foot-3 and a huge shot from the point, the former Soo Greyhounds captained seemed destined for the NHL. But, you never know for sure.
Saddled with a rep for being inconsistent the last few seasons in Manchester, while former teammates Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov were off securing spots in Los Angeles, Muzzin stuck with it and continued to fine-tune his game.
On Saturday he was voted as the Kings’ Best Newcomer for 2013.
“I feel good,” Muzzin told MayorsManor. “When you come into a team you want to kind of make a statement, show what kind of player you are, and to get rewarded by it is great. A lot of thanks goes to my teammates and the coaches for putting me out there, and playing with some great guys. So it’s great. It’s an honor.”
Once believed to possibly be a replacement for Willie Mitchell at the end of his original two-year contract, that thought went out the window when Mitchell signed an extension last spring. Then, as ironic as it may be, Mitchell was inured during the lockout and Muzzin was give a chance to fill in when the lockout ended in January.
“The whole season has been a high for me,” he said. “Winning an award is good. But, you come into the season, and you want to succeed and do well the whole season. To come in here and show that I can play, and stick around, it’s been a high for me.”
In 45 games with the Kings this year he posted seven goals (tops among LA defensemen) and earned a plus-16 rating (leading the entire Kings team). Yet, don’t try to convince him he’s a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate.
“I think that’s a far-fetched,” Muzzin remarked. “But what an honor that would be too, to be Rookie of the Year. There’s a lot of great rookies out there, or new guys, that are up for it. So, I don’t really focus on that.”
After two-and-half years in the minors, and all the games he played in Manchester, back to finally getting another crack at the NHL – what was the key to solidifying his roster spot this time around?
“Just playing with confidence, and believing in myself. Getting the opportunity to play. I’ve felt good, and I’ve learned a lot this year. I still have a lot more to learn, but playing with confidence and being consistent was huge for me. And I think that’s what helped me stick around.”
Off the ice, it eventually led to him moving out of a hotel and getting his own apartment. Just a small step in feeling like he belonged and might be around for a while.
So, is it time to finally remove the ‘inconsistent’ label and toss that to the side?
“Yeah,” he said though his often present sheepish grin. “I’ve learned a lot over these past couple years. To be a pro and play in the league, you have to be there every night. You have to be consistent every night. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re gonna make plays. But, at the end of the day, you want to bring the same game every night. I’m still learning a lot about it, but I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at it.”
Whether it was desperation or confidence – or a mix of both at times earlier in the season – coach Darryl Sutter has shown remarkable flexibility, using Muzzin in just about every situation. He’s even been partnered with Drew Doughty and spent time on the power play when needed.
“I’ve played with all the guys now, including Dewey and Keaton (Ellerby),” Muzzin explained. “If they’re looking for a little bit of offense, they’ll throw me out with Dewey. And playing with Keats on the third pair, we have a role to play. Whatever the role, I’m gonna try to do my best.”
Even though he’s a rookie, he begins today wanting the same thing as every other player on the Kings roster. Muzzin and his teammates are looking for a deep playoff run.
And it all starts with a seven-game series against the Blues.
“They’re a fast, hard-hitting team, so we have to be ready,” he said. “We’re doing our best to prepare ourselves, and go in there and win games.”
He was a standout on the Kings blueline throughout the regular season.
Now comes the real test though. Can he shine in the playoffs?
RELATED CONTENT: Sutter credits Muzzin as one of the key reasons Kings made the playoffs
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Lol, sorry but Muzzin got owned. Him and ELlerby together… I haven’t seen that type of poor excuse defense in a looong time. I think every time they were paired together, STL had a quality scoring chance.