Hard work and persistence – and a visit to a new skating coach – pays off big time for the Kings defenseman, who’s earning prime minutes on a stud-filled blueline
BY RYAN KENNEDY
There’s an embarrassment of wealth on the Los Angeles Kings blueline, from Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov to Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene.
But that doesn’t mean competition was dead and this summer, Jake Muzzin took steps to improve his standing within the franchise by taking power skating lessons from professional Dawn Braid in Toronto. “You can always improve on your skating,” he said. “I was just looking to get an edge and whatever can make your game better, then that’s what you’ve gotta do.”
Teaching an old dog new tricks isn’t easy and though Muzzin is just 24, there were a lot of mental and physical gymnastics to go through in order to get the proper results. “Your body is so used to skating a certain way, because of the muscle memory,” he said. “To try and change that in one session is impossible. You’re thinking a lot about the new movements and then your old habits kick in, so it’s pretty tough.”
Muzzin’s rise to the NHL is a feel-good story. He missed his first year of major junior due to back surgery, but climbed the ranks with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and left as the best defenseman in the Ontario League, winning the Max Kaminsky Trophy in 2010. Drafted by Pittsburgh late in the 2007 draft (141st overall), he never got a shot with the Penguins, but signed on with L.A. as a free agent.
Last year’s lockout-shortened season was his first true NHL campaign, but the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder set a top-four role as his goal for this season. Things didn’t start well, however, as Muzzin was turning the puck over too much for coach Darryl Sutter’s liking and the youngster was scratched for five straight games in mid-October. But improvements were made and now he’s earned that top-four slot, playing with Doughty, the Canadian Olympian. “He’s grown so much defensively,” Doughty said. “I’m hoping we can be partners for many years. Once you get used to being with someone so often, you’re going to make a great pair.”
And the chemistry is there. Doughty and Muzzin are both great puckhandlers, which allows them to move the biscuit out of their zone in a hurry. And Doughty is as smooth a skater as they come, so with his new partner, Muzzin’s summer homework is already coming in handy.