Make or Break Jake: Despite Struggles, Muzzin Needs More Time to Come Around
When he made his return to Los Angeles last week, defenseman Rob Scuderi left many Kings fans, including yours truly, longing for their former defensive specialist. To make matters worse, Scuderi and the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins came out strong in the first period before beating the Kings by a 4-1 score. But for a team with the fewest goals against per game this season, why would fans of the Los Angeles Kings miss Scuderi so much?
To say Scuderi was a valuabe asset to Los Angeles’s stingy defense would certainly be a grave understatement. With that said, though, the silver-and-black still have many successful contributors to their success on the blue line. Despite showing age a little more, Willie Mitchell is still an effective defenseman, as is Alec Martinez, who has missed the last few games due to injury. Slava Voynov still has a few kinks to work out defensively while at 24, Drew Doughty has already established himself as one of the premier defensemen in the league, let alone with the Kings. But there’s someone else on that blue line who, despite showing signs of promise, still struggle at times defensively – and these days with the Kings struggles front-and-center, those few mistakes are as evident as ever.
Through 52 games this season, sophomore defenseman Jake Muzzin has three goals and 13 assists to his name. His 16 points match his total from last season, granted the young blueliner played in seven fewer games. While his +2 rating certainly isn’t anything to look down on, it is a few steps below his 2012-13 total of +16. But while Jake Muzzin is still getting adjusted to being a solid member of Los Angeles’s daunting defensive core, the growing pains have been occurring longer than expected. Then again, with the Kings struggling the way they are as of late, it is possible that Muzzin’s issues only appear to be worse than they really are. But even with that said, I expected more out of the 24-year-old at this point in the year.
Despite being on the right side of the plus/minus ranking thus far, Muzzin has found himself making crucial mistakes that usually led to goals for the opposition. Such a situation would be hard to digest at any point in the year but with Los Angeles’s anemic scoring so bad that they are second-last overall in goals-per-game, Muzzin’s defensive gaffes are unfortunately worse, regardless if it’s fair or not.
I like Jake Muzzin. I do. I especially like the Woodstock, Ontario, for his resiliency, coming back from herniated disc surgery at the tender age of 16. Muzzin did fight his way back onto the ice – with some even suggesting that he’d never play hockey again – eventually getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins 141st overall in 2007. However, the Penguins never signed him and signed with Los Angeles in January 2010.
From there, much like fellow Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, Muzzin was signed by Los Angeles without a ton of promise. But, like Martinez, a lot of time in the minors helped Muzzin find a new level to his game and in January 2013, he got his shot with the big club for good.
However, as resilient as Jake Muzzin is and as inspiring as his story is, the big defenseman seems to be lagging behind – so much so that a number of frustrated Kings fans are hoping to see the youngster be traded before the March 5 deadline. But considering he just signed a two-year extension with the Kings this past July, dealing the big guy may not be as realistic as some would hope.
It is evident that the 24-year-old is having a difficult time finding his groove. Many members of the Kingdom – again, yours truly included – want to pull out their hair when Muzzin commits a turnover or especially when one of his lapses results in a goal for the other team.
With the negative comes positive, though.
Jake Muzzin is 6-foot-3, 213 pounds and he uses that size that to his advantage. So far this season, Muzzin has registered 119 hits which is third among Los Angeles defenseman behind Drew Doughty and Robyn Regehr – the latter strengthening the Kings’ defensive stability since coming over from Buffalo last year. His 52 blocked shots leave him in the middle pack amongst the defensive core and his 122 shots are second only to Doughty’s 131 among Los Angeles D-men. These three are miles better Muzzin’s totals last season which included 70 hits, 29 blocked shots and 77 shots.
In addition, four of Muzzin’s 16 points this season have been on the power play, an area the Kings could definitely improve in.
While it may seem like it these days, there is a lot more upside to Jake Muzzin’s than he’s credit for. Even I’m hard on the sophomore when I shouldn’t be. But with the aforementioned trade dealine now just over a month away, Kings fans now find themselves constantly wondering what will be needed to fix their team’s scoring slump. Whether it’s the acquisition of a Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri or even a Brad Boyes, it is most certain that the Kings will have to part ways with at least one of their players, especially when it involves the respective teams of the aforementioned three which are all young, inexperienced squads looking to build on their respective futures outside the draft as well as in it.
Some Kings fans hope that Jake Muzzin will be on the opposite end of one of these potential trades. But while I admit that there are worse players to ship out of town, I’d rather see Muzzin stick around and learn the ropes in Los Angeles a bit more. As mentioned, Alec Martinez has benefitted, so why can’t MUzzin, even if some fans have reached their wit’s end with him?
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Jake Muzzin wasn’t struggling. He is. But the Woodstock native isn’t the only King to hold that distinction these days. So, why should a second-year defenseman be less immune to a trade than, say, a veteran like Jarret Stoll or Justin Williams? I’m not intentionally singling out those two but it does serve as a fair question nonetheless.
Lo these last few weeks, being a Los Angeles Kings has been tough to endure. But these are the Los Angeles Kings and while it was nearly two years ago, they did win the Stanley Cup. I’m not bringing that up because I refuse to let go in the past, however. I bring that up because while some players have come and gone since then, the team has generally remained intact, and that includes said stingy defensive unit which now includes an inexperienced, albeit talented, Jake Muzzin.
While I do understand the frustration surrounding Los Angeles’s No. 6, I also believe that it may not be the most rational decision to pull the trigger on a trade involving Jake Muzzin just yet. If GM Dean Lombardi and company find an appropriate scenario that involves the sophomore, then so be it. Until then, let’s just wait and see until, perhaps, the teams return from the Olympic break. Even then, the Kings will have enough time to determine what they want to do with Muzzin, if anything at all.