As promised, its time to make your pick for the Kings’ 6th defenseman to start the year.
While there are still two more pre-season games to play, last night’s contest against the Ducks was our first opportunity to see Jacob Muzzin and Thomas Hickey play in the same game.
Before I taint you with my possibly errant opinions, lets get straight to the polls.
First, head-to-head breakdowns.
And finally, getting to the point, who makes the team?
Based on what I have seen in practice and in this last game, I have to give the nod to Muzzin right now. It is interesting that Drewiske got paired with Hickey, since this could very well be the bottom pairing. Though Muzzin gets the bigger minutes with Johnson. Hard to tell if there is anything to read into there in Murray’s thinking, so I’m going to leave it at just giving Scuderi a rest for the sake of simplicity.
To my eyes, Muzzin was far more composed with the puck and generally in better position without it. While Hickey had the flashier plays, in particular a fantastic stick check in the 2nd period, he also had by far the worse plays come off his stick. It could be that Hickey-Drewiske is just a bad pairing. Neither defensemen is a great skater or very fast, and neither is very physical. Muzzin had the benefit of playing with the better defensemen, and while his offensive skills look limited next to Hickey’s, Muzzin showed some remarkable vision and adeptness at moving the puck up the ice.
One of the things I really liked about Muzzin was that he always stayed on the right side of the puck. Hickey found himself on the wrong side a few times due to turnovers, over-handling and taking too much time to make a play on some occasions. Muzzin had no qualms jumping up into the play, but he refused to let a forward get by him at the offensive blueline or in the neutral zone. Some plays that jumped out at me were when Muzzin had his shots blocked, he immediately took the body to whoever blocked the shot, knocking them down and preventing a counter attack.
I did like much of what I saw from Hickey. He showed himself to have the much higher upside to his game. He just looks to me like he needs more seasoning against men, that his main issue was confidence level. Muzzin, though coming straight from juniors, seemed more comfortable playing against the big boys.
All that said, while I would pick Muzzin to make the team right now, I think Hickey will rebound on Saturday in Vegas and/or Sunday in Anaheim (assuming he plays either or both of the games). I also believe that if in Murray’s and Lombardi’s eyes the two 21-year old rearguards are on anything close to equal footing, Hickey will get the nod due to AHL experience and more dues having been paid.