Jake Muzzin experienced a season that isn’t particularly unfamiliar to a lot of young players in the National Hockey League who strive for the elusive intangible of “consistency.” Boosted by the quick release of his wristshot and a heavy slapshot, Muzzin found some success on the scoresheet in catalyzing Los Angeles’ power play in March, when the club scored 13 times on 52 opportunities (25%).
There were also moments of learning. His March production (11 points) earned him dark horse Calder Trophy whispers; it also more than doubled his production from the other three months of the regular season combined. Points, of course, won’t be the weightiest category in which Muzzin will be judged.
He played in all but one postseason game, and though his early performances required improvement, he gradually became more accustomed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs style of play. “I was feeling a little more comfortable as the playoffs went on,” said Muzzin. Though there were playoff hiccups, his play appeared to reflect that statement. After he sat out Game 2 in Chicago, he returned to play effectively in Games 3, 4 and 5.
Muzzin appeared to understand Darryl Sutter’s messages clearly. Following some rough outings in early February, which included Sutter’s memorable and pointed “road apples” comment when describing the then-23-year-old’s play at the time, Muzzin was not removed from the lineup once he re-entered the defensive rotation in a 2-1 win over Columbus on February 15. Even when the team acquired Robyn Regehr in early April, Muzzin held off Keaton Ellerby and Alec Martinez in his bid to remain in Sutter’s favor.
“Just challenge myself and get a little mad at yourself when you’re not playing as well,” Muzzin responded when asked about his improved play when challenged by the coaching staff.
“When you get sat or taken out of the lineup, you want to come back and show that you belong in the lineup. You have to play better of a game, and that’s something I’ve learned this year as well. Being ready for every game, preparing. You want to play. When you get taken out of the lineup you want to show that you belong in the lineup, and maybe that’s why I came back strong.”
He’s a restricted free agent – Ellerby and Martinez are also restricted free agents – and at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, his size and his offensive potential should prioritize his re-signing.
Similar to that of Tyler Toffoli, this off-season will be an important time in Muzzin’s development.
“They’re going to have to take 100 days of being stronger athletes, the next 100 days. For them to help us next year, they’re going to have to be better athletes, very simple,” Sutter said of Muzzin and Toffoli.
“They were boys that we could cover up a lot, and what do they take from it? Hopefully as we meet with them the next two or three days we’re going to find out. It’s not something I’m going to generalize. I know for certain though that you have to be physically and mentally as close to 100% as you can to play in the National Hockey League. You can play, but you’ve got to play and be able to help a good team. There’s not much line to draw there. When you have training camp on September 11 and [today] is June 11, count the days. Start getting ready. I started doing it on the plane ride home the other night. There was no de- what do you call it? Decompressing? No. That’s not the way it works.”
Jake Muzzin, on where he has progressed, and where improvement is needed:
“For me, I think my progress is being consistent, trying to make myself a player that’s going to be in the lineup all the time. I thought I had a pretty good season and as the season went on I felt more and more comfortable. I need to continue to improve on getting better and making myself even more consistent on the ice and being more confident, and to get a little bit stronger and faster and go from there.”
Muzzin, on what he learned in the playoffs:
“The intensity and a little bit of added pressure playing. I learned a lot playing in the playoffs. You’ve got to up your game. It’s kind of a different season. I felt like as the playoffs went on I got better, and I started to feel a little bit more comfortable…I learned a lot from the older guys on the team and getting ready game in and game out because the games are right after one another. Overall, we fell short but I learned a lot coming out of the playoffs.”
Muzzin, on the veterans’ influence:
“Playing with Greener, he helped me out just being confident and being a physical player. Going out and playing my game and not trying to not make mistakes – just go out and play. Mistakes are going to happen, and stuff like that, so just go out and feel comfortable and play my game. The older guys like Scuds and Reg, how they bring their game. Every game they’re ready to go. Just watching them play I learned little stuff on and off the ice.”