Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs' Muzzin getting comfortable
MANCHESTER -- Sometimes, the weight of potential and expectations on a hockey player can become too much.
That's when it's time to take a step back and let the hockey player just, well, play hockey.
Such is the case with Manchester Monarchs defenseman Jake Muzzin.
"He's been good the last couple games for us. What we've decided to do with him is just simplify his game," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "In his own mind, he's tried to please too many people and perhaps lost his focus. I like the way he played the last two games. That's more the way we would expect him to play. He seemed to be a little more confident and comfortable."
Muzzin is 23 years old and in his third professional season after being drafted by Pittsburgh and eventually signed by Los Angeles. A rugged player at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and possessing a good shot from the point, Muzzin's early track had him on pace for a regular shift in the NHL at a young age.
He made the Kings out of camp in 2010 and played 11 games through November of that season, recording one assist. It was a cup of coffee in the big league, a chance to see if he was ready.
Heading back to Manchester to polish his game didn't seem like a big deal. After all, Muzzin was only 21. But he hasn't been back to the NHL for a game since. In the meantime, the feedback from L.A. has mounted for the Woodstock, Ontario, native.
"Sometimes, you get a little carried away with trying to do too much," Muzzin said. "You have some pressure put on you and you want to succeed and you put a lot of pressure on yourself mentally. Sometimes you get confused in the games and you want to take it back to basics and keep it simpler."
Muzzin has a goal and eight assists in 22 games this season. His inconsistent play has rendered him a healthy scratch from time to time. But the less-is-more approach has been a good thing for Muzzin over the past few games.
"I feel a lot better on the ice. A lot more confident," Muzzin said. "Sometimes, you get a lot put on your plate and you try to over-think stuff and try to do too much. Sometimes taking a step back and keeping it simple is the best thing and your game is a lot better."
It's all part of the growth process for young players with the potential that Muzzin has.
"He's still trying to find out the type of player he's going to be," Morris said. "Experience tells me that simple is better. You don't need to complicate the game. A good first pass, being solid defensively and making sure that you're making the most obvious play is going to serve him."
Muzzin knows that his play has to be steady because the Monarchs (12-11-4) are talented on the blue line and the depth chart will get longer once David Kolomatis returns in a few weeks. That will take the team to eight healthy D men with only six slots on a game night.
"It's going to be interesting to see what's going to happen," Muzzin said. "You've got to be playing well if you want to stay in the lineup."
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FORMER University of New Hampshire standout Bobby Butler was named AHL Player of the Week on Monday for his recent play with Albany. In three games last week, Butler scored six goals and one assist.
Against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Butler tied franchise records with four goals and five points. Butler has 10 points during his current six-game scoring streak and has totaled 10 goals and five assists for 15 points in 22 contests on the season for Albany, leading the team in goals, power-play goals (three) and game-winning goals (three).
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Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.