When his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs selected him 52nd overall in 2018, Sean Durzi likely couldn't have been more excited to get to suit up for his favorite club.
But they traded him to Los Angeles in 2019 as part of the deal that sent Jake Muzzin to the Leafs. Toronto addressed a big need at the time, but fans knew they gave up a valuable piece in Durzi.
So it's fitting that he's expected to make his NHL debut on Wednesday against the team that drafted him. And the timing of the call-up made sense, too, because Durzi has been on an absolute tear in the AHL.
The third-year pro started the season with 16 points in 13 games, just four points shy of his previous career-high set in 39 games last season. Durzi sits ninth in the league overall in points and second among defensemen behind Scott Perunovich (20). Durzi was starting to look almost too good for the AHL, and with Drew Doughty and Sean Walker out, Durzi's two-way play can be seen as a positive.
"I knew I wanted to take a big step this year and kind of find my game, at least at the AHL level when I started there,” Durzi told the media on Friday following his first call-up. “Things went my way through the first 12 games so far, and I was happy to get the call. Hopefully, things go well here.”
That opportunity is on the horizon. With Durzi shooting at a crazy 22.7 percent in the AHL, that type of offense can be used effectively if given the opportunity. Durzi can run a power play and he isn't afraid to rush the puck down the ice to make something happen. In junior, he almost looked more like a fourth forward at points, especially when he had 15 goals in 40 games in 2017-18 with Owen Sound. That year, Durzi was one of the top overage prospects in the draft, and the Leafs rewarded him. But it's with the Kings that he'll see his NHL dream come true, and it's coming against the team that he grew up following.
It's always great to see a young prospect realize their dream. And his coach believes in him, which could be great for his confidence.
“We have (watched him a lot in the AHL), and Durz, this isn’t like we’re calling a guy up who hasn’t been around,” Todd McLellan said last week. “He’s been around the locker room, he’s been around the team for a few years now, he’s comfortable. I really believe he’s comfortable around us, he’s not nervous, other than the fact that he might play his first game real soon."
Is the timing coincidental? Sure, especially with the Leafs calling up Kyle Clifford against the team he spent most of his career with. But Durzi truly deserves the opportunity he's getting and if things go well, he might force the team's hand and keep him up long term.
They don't need to, though. It's a bit of a crowded blueline and Durzi could go back and be an integral part of Ontario's push for the Calder Cup. But if Durzi rides his hot streak into a strong run - something we often see from youngsters with something to prove - it could be in Los Angeles' best interest to keep him around.
It's still early to tell w But for now, Durzi has earned this opportunity, and he'll enjoy it for what it is.