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.
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?
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.