The role models were right in front of Jake Muzzin when he was learning how to be an everyday defenseman in the NHL.
Early in his career, Muzzin had only to look at veteran teammates such as Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi to see how they handled poor plays and games in which their errors were magnified.
“It wasn’t so much what they said,” Muzzin said. “It was how they approached it; if they were struggling, how they dealt with it. When I was younger I would dwell on mistakes really hard, and it would [mess] with me a little bit. I wanted to make it so bad, I didn’t want to [mess] up. I learned how to deal with that over time.”
Muzzin hasn’t had to deal with that much this season. He’s on track for a career high in points and has continued to develop as a shutdown presence for the Kings. That was evident Thursday when Muzzin leveled Detroit’s Nick Jensen, briefly left the game after he took a puck off his hand trying to block a shot, and later dove to break up a long stretch pass.
It was as much a defenseman could impact a game without making the scoresheet. It also was 48 hours after Muzzin’s failed clear attempt resulted in an Arizona goal. John Stevens, who previously coached the defensemen as an associate head coach, remembers that being the kind of play that Muzzin used to beat himself up over.
“One thing we realized early on was that if you didn’t have a lot feedback with Muzz, he probably expected the worst,” the Kings head coach said. Stevens made it a point to communicate with Muzzin because he was his own worst critic. Through that process, Stevens watched Muzzin mature and become more dedicated year-round.
“That’s really helped his mental preparation,” Stevens said. “I think he has a real firm understanding of how he needs to play, and I think he has a real honest opinion of his game, of what he does well and what he doesn’t do well, and how to go about fixing it.”
Muzzin doesn’t put too much stock into his offensive uptick, though his next assist will give him a career-best 33 for the season, and he’s three points from matching his career high of 41.
Muzzin served as a mentor and partner to rookie defenseman Paul LaDue when LaDue went into the lineup Thursday. In that respect, Muzzin, 29, is now in the role of Greene, Mitchell and Scuderi in showing the way to younger players.
The first lesson already has been given.
“I understand that mistakes are part of the game,” Muzzin said. “They’re going to happen. Whether you have 40 minutes left or 10 minutes left, you’ve got to go out there again and do your job. To get over that was a struggle early, but I’ve found ways to figure it out.”
VS. NEW JERSEY
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: 790