With Jake Muzzin, It’s Still All Between the Ears

Sutter via Rosen:

“We went through it last year. He’s a young defenseman,” Sutter said. “There’s a lot of pressure on him, and he’s not quite prepared for those situations yet. You [saw] it in the playoffs last year, where he was a healthy scratch. So we’re going through that same thing again. Heck, you’re not going to win very many games if you’re a guy who’s playing significant minutes, and you’re a high-minus player.”

“We tried to ramp his training up this summer. He was a very unfit player when we got him last year. He was very fortunate to be on an NHL roster. He just worked on his fitness. That really hurt him in the playoffs, the pace of it. He did a really good job this summer of trying to get better there with his cardiovascular that we wanted him to and then he got hurt in Colorado, so he didn’t skate for a week…and then he didn’t have any contact. You know what? Probably shouldn’t have played him the first game. Should’ve bag skated him a couple more days there.”

Harsh but honest words.

I was hard on Muzzin last season, especially toward the end when it was clear to me he was a liability. In the playoffs, he was completely unprepared to handle the speed and physical intensity of the game. I have been hard on Muzzin this season because he has been the same player I saw at the end of last season.

No improvement. No progress.

He is still tentative with the puck in the defensive zone, is below average positionally and doesn’t fit into the mold of a high-octane / offensive defenseman or that of a defensive stalwart. Doing everything positively average, at best, doesn’t land you an NHL job. It makes you a decent AHL defenseman.

But why?

Why does Jake Muzzin continue to struggle?

He skates well.

He has size.

He has strength.

He can hit.

He can take a hit.

He has a solid shot.

Why isn’t he right there with Slava Voynov?

Two reasons.

First, the hockey IQ is not there. Jake’s “reads” are questionable from the moment he touches the puck in the defensive zone. Any professional defenseman in any league knows how to rim the puck around or make the pass to the open defensive partner or a supporting center or wing, but where there is pressure, especially when escape from pressure requires the ability to skate with the puck (quick decisions, decisiveness), Muzzin fails. And where he fails, he is exposed.

Second, he has a fragile psyche. This isn’t a revelation. It’s been discussed before.  Jake Muzzin is a creature of his confidence and that is bad news for a young defenseman who struggles likes he has. He is on the biggest stage hockey has to offer. He has earned his way here. If he doesn’t start treating this like an opportunity he needs to invest every fabric of his being into, he will wake up one morning and find himself back on a bus.

I wrote an article titled “Muzzin’s Demons, A Second Look at Jake” in January of 2013. In that article, I wrote:

Jake Muzzin’s first NHL goal put a wide smile on my face. Nothing breeds confidence like production. He is built to be an offensive defenseman but one with a physical and nasty edge. His greatest challenge will be whether he can quiet the demons between the ears so that he can do what he hasn’t done so far in his career – stick.

Jake is no closer today to sticking than he was when I wrote the above article. In fact, the glue is starting to come off. I am still rooting for him but not at the expense of the team. He is old enough to be judged as an NHL caliber defenseman or something less.



Categories: L.A. Kings News

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19 replies

  1. I completely agree. So, he has a big shot. But one needs to be a complete player!! And … he hasn’t shown it!

  2. Isn’t it a hallmark of good defensemen to have a short memory? To have the ability to shake off a bad shift or game and to rise above it? Yet we endure Muzzin’s fragile psyche? I’m not saying that Martinez is unflappable, but he sure seems to come in with more confidence to start with. I’d rather not have to pump my players up to get them to proper performance level. Come in ready to play. That includes confidence.

    Free Alec! End top posting!

  3. “Should have bag skated him for a couple more days there.” He rolled the dice and hit 7. It’s early enough to make the adjustment. I’d be damned surprised if he came back Wednesday night to play.

    Sounds like Sutter has a couple special “practices” for him lined up. Just don’t puke on the benches!

  4. Jim Fox posted the practice line combinations this morning and the defense pairs were:

    Voynov/Mitchell
    Regehr/Doughty
    Greene/Martinez
    Muzzin/Ellerby

    That 4th combo might mean they will be scratched from the next game.

    Also, Carbomb is being put on the 2nd line with Carter and Richards, which might mean King is scratched, but that could still change.

    • I really hope that Carcillo stays a scratch. Personally, I see very little value in him. Yes he has had chemistry with Carter & Richards in the past; but the upside going forward is miniscule. Instead Frattin has been on eof the best forwards on the team through 3 games and has shown flashes of being the power forward that a playmaking Richards and sniping Carter need. Frattin has the upside and has been playing well, moving him off that line now is a mistake.

      • I agree completely! Frattin has shown that he is working hard to settle in with this team. He certainly has skills. To take him away from this years “Kings project” would be a very bad decision. We have the pieces to complete this puzzle. Sutter just needs to use the right pieces.

  5. I don’t know about Muzzin (other than Bobby is probably right…. you either have poise at that age or you’d better learn it fast), but I prefer to comment on some of Lombardi’s decisions.
    Specifically giving a 2 year contract to Regehr. Maybe he helped out a lot in last year’s playoffs, but he seems to be a ‘weight’ rather than a support in his role as Doughty’s partner.

    He already seems slow and the season’s just started. What’ll it be like in another year?

  6. Speaking of the Sharks they just killed NY 9-2 last night. Now if that doesn’t piss you off I don’t know what will.

  7. No offense, but I just re-read your January piece and there is nothing to corroborate your theory that he has a fragile psyche or demons between the ears. I agree he plays hesitant, and sometimes without poise, but I don’t see any evidence that he’s crying in his Xbox after every rebuke from a coach or bad stat sheet. The other thing I can’t agree with is that he’s no closer to sticking today than he was then. Regardless of Sutter’s blunt criticisms, he clearly believes in the kid wholeheartedly to put him out on opening night, coming off an injury, and having been outplayed by Martinez. “All between the ears” is something you could say about 90% of young players. “Demons” and “fragile psyche” – that’s Patrick O’Sullivan.

    • Or Patrick O’neal

      • One reason why Muzzin played pretty much all last season was because Greene was out pretty much the entire regular season.
        Martinez was hurt and could never get back into the rotation.
        Muzzin played briefly in the 2010-2011 season when Greene was out the 1st 10 games I think at the beginning of the season recouping from surgery. He went back to Manchester after that.
        Muzzin has not been all that great and I think Sutter has been trying to build that confidence with him, but he’s not seeing anything to indicate he is getting any better after essentially 3 seasons.
        AMART is a little older, but was much more reliable defensively and also helped chip in on the PP.
        Sutter doesn’t believe as much in Muzzin as he might have once had. Clearly his comments pretty much say pretty bluntly Muzzin needs to be a lot better, and he hasn’t seen it yet.

  8. As expected AMarts in Muzzin out. Carbomb getting his debut while King sits. I like it. :)

  9. Ok, our team has returned. Welcome back, boys!

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