LOS ANGELES — He was very easy to miss, even though he was part of the on-ice celebration on June 11, 2012, when the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the first time in the 45-year history of the franchise.
After all, he did not get to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head, nor was he allowed to skate around the ice with it at Staples Center. Nevertheless, Kings defenseman prospect Jake Muzzin was fortunate enough to be part of that celebration, as one of a few Kings prospects who remained with the big club after they were recalled from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate).
That experience during the playoffs, which included traveling with the team, practicing, and participating in meetings, gave Muzzin, 23, some valuable insight that should help him down the road.
“When I was up there during the playoff run, I able to practice with the team,” he told Frozen Royalty during an exclusive interview. “[I noticed] how calm and confident they were, and how focused the guys were on every little detail. They knew what they had to do, and when they had to do it. I was taking everything in, like the way they prepare themselves, what they were doing after—we were included in all the meetings, and everything, so we learned a lot that will help us make it to the next level.”
“There’s a lot of hype about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but when you go into the [dressing] room, no one was nervous,” he added. “It was neat to watch them go out and do their thing. I learned a lot about how guys look after themselves, and what it takes to get to the next level.”
Muzzin, was able to stick around through the Stanley Cup Final, along with forward prospect Marc-André Cliche and goaltender prospect Martin Jones, because he earned the chance after a putting in a solid 2011-12 season.
“It was a good year,” said the 6-3, 214-pound native of Woodstock, Ontario, who scored seven goals and tallied 24 assists for 31 points, and recorded a -3 plus/minus rating, with 40 penalty minutes in 71 regular season games. “I learned a lot, and I feel like I got better. I’ve just got to work on my consistency. I had some slow parts during the year, where I had to stay with it, and stay focused.”
This season, Muzzin has played in eleven of the Monarchs’ 14 games, contributing five assists, with a +2 plus/minus rating, and eight penalty minutes.
“[Muzzin] certainly embodies all the qualities of an NHL defenseman in the way of size, and the things he can do,” Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said during an exclusive interview with Frozen Royalty. “His biggest challenge is simplifying his game. Sometimes, keeping things simple is the best answer for most guys trying to make it.”
“When you do get the call, you’re not usually going up to replace a top [first or second defenseman],” Morris added. “[Rather], it’s usually to be that stay-at-home, consistent, solid guy who’s reliable, keeps a good plus/minus—somebody who’s very dependable.”
For his part, Muzzin is working on keeping things simple, along with his positioning and decision-making, the latter two being aspects of his game that the Kings have asked him to focus on since he was initially signed as an unrestricted free agent on January 4, 2010.
“Positioning is huge,” Muzzin stressed. “[I’ve watched] a lot of video. It’s about being in the right spot at the right time, and not trying to do too much. Sometimes, I would try to do too much by trying to do other people’s jobs, when I need to worry about doing my own job in the defensive zone.”
“It’s [also about] being consistent,” Muzzin added. “When I’m playing really good hockey, it’s got to be about staying with it and getting better, instead of [slacking off a bit]. There’s lots of stuff you can always get better at. [For me], it’s being in the right position, and being consistent.”
“We’re trying to get him to embrace the idea of making the simple play, and making sure that he’s got better gap, better positioning, and working to get his shot away quicker,” said Morris.
As of this writing, there continues to be no end in sight for the labor dispute between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association. As a result of the players being locked out, a considerable number of them are back with AHL teams, including the Monarchs.
Their presence is a double-edged sword.
“It’s tough because there’s guys who have been here for awhile, and there’s young guys coming up who want to play,” said Muzzin. “They think they’re going to play, and then, the lockout happens. Guys who have [played in the NHL] come back, and are taking up [roster] spots.”
“It’s good for the team, because it’s a competitive challenge,” added Muzzin. “The best players are going to play. To play in this league, this year, is a great opportunity because there [are a lot of NHL players who are] playing in this league. That’s only going to help us get better. It’s a good experience this year because there’s a lot of good players in the league.”
“It keeps you wanting to get better, because you don’t want to be that guy [who is] on the outside looking in [losing ice time]. It does take ice time away from guys, but it makes them better, and part of being a pro is handling these situations the right way.”
As Morris alluded to earlier, Muzzin has the physical make-up to be the prototypical NHL defenseman. But how close is he to being ready to play at the NHL level?
If you ask Muzzin, he’s ready now.
“Physically, I think I can play,” said Muzzin. “Coming right out of junior [in 2010-11, when he began the season with the Kings, replacing injured defenseman Matt Greene], I really didn’t know how to handle being a professional athlete. Now, I’m more focused, I look after myself better, and it’s a job, it’s not [fun and games], so [in terms of] being a little bit more prepared and experienced, I feel like I’m ready.”
But even if the NHL was playing, the Kings are returning everyone from their Stanley Cup Final team—there do not appear to be any open roster spots.
That fact could be discouraging to young prospects who are more than anxious to play at the NHL level. But Muzzin is looking at the situation in a different light.
“I’m not discouraged at all, to be honest,” he noted. “I know that if I do the right things, and continue to play well, a job is going to open sooner or later. I just have to continue to get better, continue to be focused, and play well.”
“Whatever happens, happens,” he added. “I know what the roster situation is, but I do know that, sooner or later, there’s going to be an open spot, and I want to be the guy who gets the spot.”
Under the circumstances, it could very well be that Muzzin’s road to the NHL may not go through Los Angeles. But he wants it to.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but I want to be an L.A. King,” he emphasized.
“I want to play in L.A. That’s my goal.”
Raw Audio Interview with Jake Muzzin
(12:56; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
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