FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Features comments from exclusive interviews with Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, and assistant coach John Stevens.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — When defenseman Jake Muzzin scored at 8:35 of the third period at Phoenix on January 26, he accomplished something that the vast majority of people can only dream about.
Indeed, when he scored his first National Hockey League goal on Saturday night, helping lead the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale, Arizona, he fulfilled one of his dreams.
“It was pretty exciting to get [my] first [NHL] goal,” he said. “It was big, but it was good to get the win as well.”
Muzzin, 23, received several congratulatory messages and phone calls that night.
“I talked to family, and a couple of people who‘ve been with me throughout my career, and my girlfriend,” said the 6-3, 217-pound native of Woodstock, Ontario. “I talked to my Mom and Dad. They were pretty excited. They were watching the game with my uncle, who‘s a big fan. They were really happy.”
As great a milestone as it is for any young player, scoring his first NHL goal is just a quick rest stop for Muzzin, who has his sights set firmly on the road ahead, with his destination being a established spot on the Kings roster.
For his part, Muzzin believes that he belongs in the NHL, and that he can hang with the big boys.
“I‘ve been telling myself that since I first got here, just to believe that [I] belong here,” he stressed. “Every game that goes by, you feel more [like you belong in the NHL] when you play with the guys and compete. To have a little bit of impact on the game [at Phoenix] was huge.”
Assistant coach John Stevens, who works with the Kings‘ defensemen, praised Muzzin, but noted that more is expected from him.
“Muzzin‘s got an opportunity here with some of the injuries we‘ve got on the back end [to veteran defenseman Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell],” said Stevens. “He spent some time here before, and he‘s had a couple of years to mature.”
Muzzin made the Kings roster out of training camp in the 2010-11 season, playing in eleven games before being assigned to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League once Greene returned from an injury.
“We want him to come up here and be a good, hard, assertive defender,” Stevens indicated. “I think he‘s done that, and I think he has the skill set where he can fill in on the power play, and provide some offense from the blue line, which he did [at Phoenix]. This is a good first step for him. He just needs to keep getting better and being assertive in his defensive play.”
“[At Phoenix], he was a really assertive player,” Stevens added. “I think he‘s realizing that he can be a good player in this league, and he‘s going out there, playing hockey, and trying to make a difference in the games.”
Muzzin‘s play has not made anyone start thinking of him as a future candidate for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL‘s top defenseman. Nevertheless, his play so far has given his confidence a boost.
“When your confidence grows, you become more composed with the puck,” he said. “You‘re confident [in your ability] to make plays instead of just shooting it away. You see what‘s coming, you see what‘s open, and you make a play. When you‘re confident, you‘re able to make those plays.”
In addition to being more assertive, Stevens indicated that, like most young players, Muzzin‘s needs to work on consistency.
“With young players, you just want to see the consistency improve,” said Stevens. “There‘s been no spikes between ’great‘ and ’bad.‘ It‘s been between ’good‘ and ’great,‘ and I think he‘s got more experience now. We liked his skill set from the beginning. Positioning and decision-making is always going to be a part of it, but it‘s more consistency than anything else.”
“When he made our team out of training camp, we just liked the things he did that we‘re seeing now,” added Stevens. “But we need them all the time. You can‘t have one shift where it‘s happening, and another where it‘s not.”
“It‘s good for guys to go down to the minors where they play heavy minutes, and become part of the leadership group down there. There‘s a lot of good things that happen when you play in the American Hockey League. He‘s [had] a couple of years down there to develop. I think his consistency has improved, and he‘s a better player because of it.”
As head coach Darryl Sutter said during the Kings‘ recent three-game road trip, the defensemen need to shoot the puck more, Muzzin in particular.
“First thing I told [Muzzin] when he came off the ice [during a shift] was ’just hit the net.‘” said Sutter. “If you look at before that, [defensemen Alec] Martinez and Slava [Voynov] were not getting enough shots through, or on net.”
“All of our defensemen need to get more pucks to the net, and I think Muzzin is a guy who has a great shot,” Stevens noted. “That can help us in that category, so that‘s something we‘re going to demand of him.”
“As a whole defensive corps, [the coaches want us] to get more shots, and for me, to continue with quick plays, simple plays, hard play,” said Muzzin.
Muzzin indicated that as tough as it is to move up to the NHL level, in a couple of ways, it is easier than at lower levels.
“The guys are always in position here,” Muzzin emphasized. “There‘s lots of talk, lots of help. They do their job, you do your job. If everyone‘s doing their job, the team will be successful, and so will you.”
“It‘s a little bit more consistent here than it is in Manchester, where there‘s young guys coming up from junior [leagues in Canada],” Muzzin added. “[Up here], you have to do your job or you‘re not going to play. [That has] contributed to [his play so far this season].”
Muzzin may also be buoyed by the likelihood that he will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Indeed, according to assistant general manager Ron Hextall, Muzzin would have to clear waivers before he could be assigned to Manchester. Given his skill, physical attributes, upside and potential, is it a virtual guarantee that another team would claim Muzzin off the waiver wire—the Kings will not risk losing him for nothing.
Despite that, and the good impression Muzzin has apparently made on the Kings‘ coaching staff, Sutter was a bit less than complimentary in what may have been an attempt to motivate a young player who might otherwise get caught up in reading his press clippings.
“He didn‘t do anything special,” Sutter said about Muzzin scoring his first NHL goal. “What he did better was that he ran into a couple of guys. If he doesn‘t [do that], he ain‘t playin.‘ He‘s a big guy who can skate, so he‘d better compete.”
“He‘s got to give us more minutes,” Sutter added. “I‘m not interested in playing a defenseman eleven minutes [per game]. If he doesn‘t give us three or four more minutes, which [would take] the pressure off the left side, with [defenseman Rob] Scuderi and Martinez, because they‘re playing 23-25 minutes, then somebody else could play there.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Jake Muzzin (4:47)
John Stevens (2:17)
- Jake Muzzin Will Get Another Shot After LA Kings Lose Defenseman Matt Greene
- LA Kings Blue Liner Prospect Jake Muzzin Is Waiting Patiently For His Chance
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