EL SEGUNDO, CA — On Day 4 of the Los Angeles Kings’ 2015 Training Camp, things were a bit less hectic and more focused, with their first pre-season game of the 2015-16 season on tap for tonight in Bakersfield, California against the Arizona Coyotes.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, otherwise known as the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, defenseman Jake Muzzin mused about last season and what’s ahead for him, and the team, this year.
While most of his teammates were idled after the 2014-15 National Hockey League season ended for the Kings on April 11, 2015, Muzzin headed for the Czech Republic to represent Canada in the 2015 IIHF World Championship.
“I was lucky,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go overseas to play for a month with Canada, so that prolonged my season a little bit. That was an awesome experience. Great team, great city that we went to, and we ended up winning, which was awesome. That was a lot of fun.”
“[After that], I just went home, hung out with family and friends, saw a lot of people, and then, came back here,” he added. “It was really pretty quiet after that.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Muzzin spent the remaining four months of the summer resting, relaxing, playing golf, and working out.
“[The long summer from missing the playoffs], gives you some time to get away from the game and to appreciate it that much more, I found,” said Muzzin. “It gives you a chance, if you’ve got any injuries, to heal properly, get a fresh mind—re-focus coming into the season, and to come in, and look to win that Stanley [Cup] again.”
But it took little time for the long off-season to become too long.
“The longer the summer went on, the more I was getting sick and tired of having summer,” he noted. “I just wanted to get back with the guys.”
But before all that, Muzzin took time to think long and hard about what went wrong last season, and we he, and the team, could have done better.
“You get some time to think about it, individually, too, about what you could do better to help the team, be a better player for the guys, stuff like that,” he said. “You get some time to look at it, and try to correct some things—find out what you need to do better, try to correct it, and look to build on it this year.”
So what did Muzzin identify as areas needing corrective action?
“There’s lot of little detail things—certain reads here and there—you caught yourself making the wrong play, making the wrong read for the situation, stuff like that,” he added. “Creating more offensively, trying to be better defensively. There’s lots of little plays—it’s hard to explain one. But all those little details you want to lock down and have it become instinctive to just do it properly.”
Associate head coach John Stevens also went over the play of the defensemen last season with the proverbial fine tooth comb.
“We did some stuff that John addressed—areas I know that I need to be better in, and as a team, that we need to be better in, trying to get those down pat,” said Muzzin.
As a defenseman who played in all situations last season, Muzzin also identified other areas where he, and the team, needs to improve upon.
“There’s lots of things that needed to be different, but we can continue to get better at our special teams,” he noted. “I think our penalty-kill can take a step forward this year.”
“Scoring, creating more offensive chances and getting more pucks to the net as a defenseman—that’s something I need to improve on, as does the whole defensive corps,” he added. “Those are big things we need improve on, but I think we have the right plan of attack to improve upon them.”
“There’s always room for improvement, on and off the ice, no matter what stage you’re at. Becoming a better player—you always want to be better, and push yourself to be better. With more experience, you know situations, and you want to grow in that [aspect of the game]. Being in those past seasons, you have to grow from that, and continue to improve. I’d like to be a better penalty-killer, and play a bigger role in that, personally. I’m excited for that opportunity, and I’d like to take advantage of it.”
As Muzzin noted, there’s always room for improvement, even for the biggest, brightest superstars, and his defensive partner, an NHL superstar in his own right, pointed out that Muzzin has come a long way in a short time.
“He’s got more experience,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “He’s always had really good offensive skills, he was good with the puck, good shot, good passer, good hands, too. One thing he needed to learn when he got into the league was to play with more confidence and to work on his defending. He’s worked really hard at that, and he’s gotten so much better.”
“When he got to the NHL, he was determined to be a better player,” added Doughty. “He wanted to be my defense partner [right away]. When he first came in, he wasn’t, right off the bat. He’d play with me for a few games, and if he had a poor game, they’d move him back with someone else. But now that he’s become a very steady and confident player, we’re able to, hopefully, play 82 games together. When you develop good habits with a defense partner, and you know where he is, it’s easy to play hockey.”
Doughty indicated that Muzzin’s greatest area of growth has been his defensive play.
“For sure, he’s worked very hard at that,” Doughty noted. “He’s a big body. He can play physical, he plays hard in the corners. He plays strong, and he’s got a good stick. We’ve worked hard together, as a pair, and he’s worked hard with John Stevens. He’s become a very, very good defenseman.”
“He’s become a very good player in this league, and I know that whenever other teams come up to play against [us], they’re not happy about it because we’re both very good defenders,” Doughty added. “We take a lot of pride in playing very good defense, and when the offense comes around, we’re not bad at chipping in on that, too.”
Doughty credited the relationship he and Muzzin have as being critical to their success.
“We’re good buddies off the ice, too, which I think is important to having a successful defensive pairing,” said Doughty. “It’s not like we’re talking hockey all the time, or anything like that—we can go over things if we’re out for lunch, or something like that. But we have a good relationship, on and off the ice, and that’s why we’re a successful pairing.”
The two even spent a lot of time together during the off-season.
“He only lives a half-hour away from me, so we skated together all summer, and we went golfing all summer, so we’re tight,” Doughty noted.
Despite having played what amounts to just two-and-one-half regular seasons in the NHL, Muzzin has won a Stanley Cup, and went to the Western Conference Final during that time. He now has some critical NHL experience, and with the loss of some of the Kings’ core leadership this past summer, he will be looked upon to take up some of the slack.
“We need Muzz to be [a leader],” said Doughty. “He’s won a Stanley Cup. He knows what it takes. He’s going to play a lot of big minutes for us, so we need Muzz to step up and be a leader. With more experience, the better he’s going to be at that.”
“We lost some veteran guys this [summer—Robyn] Regehr, [Justin] Williams and [Jarret] Stoll,” said Muzzin. “All those guys are gone, so younger guys need to step up, like [Alec] Martinez, myself, even guys like [Tyler] Toffoli, [Kyle] Clifford, [Tanner] Pearson—guys like that need to elevate their responsibilities, so to speak.”
“Obviously, I don’t have the years of experience those other guys have, but with those guys leaving, other guys have to step up, and I feel like I’m getting close to a similar role. It’s exciting for us to take on new responsibilities. We have some experience under our belts, and I’m looking forward to taking on that next challenge.”
“It’s an exciting time. A lot of guys are excited to get this thing going. I’m looking forward to a good season.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
In Case You Missed It…Los Angeles Kings 2015 Training Camp – Day 3 Interviews
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