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Kings Notebook (Nov. 10)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Rookie Jake Muzzin was recalled up from Manchester on Tuesday.

Shuttling from coast to coast, and living out of a suitcase, can’t be easy or simple for a 21-year-old, but it sure beats the alternative.

A year ago, Jake Muzzin was an undrafted junior defenseman, not sure what his future would be. Now he is, at the least, a part-time NHL defenseman whom the Kings think highly enough of to call up when they have an opening on the blue line.

Muzzin got the call to rejoin the Kings on Tuesday, was on the ice for practice Wednesday and is expected to be in the lineup Thursday when the Kings host the Dallas Stars at STAPLES Center.

Willie Mitchell (fractured wrist) is on injured reserve, and Muzzin is expected to take his place in the lineup and likely partner with Davis Drewiske against the Stars.

This will be Muzzin’s third stint with the Kings. He made the team out of training camp, then was sent to Manchester when Matt Greene returned to the lineup. He came back a couple days later, but returned to Manchester when Drew Doughty returned to the lineup.

Now, with Mitchell expected to be out for four to six weeks, Muzzin might get a chance to make an impact on an extended basis. So far, he has one assist in eight games with the Kings.

``We liked what we saw,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``He went back because of a player coming off IR. He went down with a good attitude, worked hard, and was not down a long time, mind you, but we liked the things that he contributed to our team.''

Murray, signed by the Kings in January as a free agent, has good size (6-foot-3, 213 pounds) and projects well as a two-way defenseman.

During his latest stint with the Monarchs, Muzzin had one goal and one assist in two games, and said he has kept an even-keel attitude about his back-and-forth season.

``It was good to go down to Manchester,’’ Muzzin said. ``I played a lot of minutes in those games, and I got a lot of confidence playing in those games. I come back here with a lot of confidence, and I just want to continue growing and building as a player, and hopefully I can help out the guys here.’’

That’s precisely the type of thing Murray likes to hear from his young players.

``That's the attitude that you always have to go back with,’’ Murray said. ``If you carry that kind of game to the minors, from the NHL, as a young player, you're going to get better. You'll improve every day, you'll get rewarded with important minutes in critical situation and you're going to find confidence. The confidence will grow very quickly.’’

The Kings have yet to make anything official regarding their two junior-eligible players, Kyle Clifford and Brayden Schenn, but it seems as though they could be on different paths by the end of this week.

Clifford is scheduled to be in the lineup Thursday, which would be his 10th game of the season. That’s the point at which junior-eligible players burn a year off their entry-level contracts, and is usually the tipping point at which a team decides to keep the player on the NHL roster for the rest of the season.

Schenn has played eight games, and his minutes have dipped since the start of the season.

``My gut feel on it is that he might need to go back and play, go to junior and play,’’ Murray said. ``That's my gut feel, and that will be the conversation we [Murray and Lombardi] have. That's not a firm, strong opinion obviously, it's just my opinion. It has a little bit of weight, but it doesn't carry everything. So we'll discuss it and we'll see where it comes out.’’

The 10-game plateau isn’t a rock-solid deadline, given that players can still return to their junior teams after 10 games. But Clifford, who has become a regular as the Kings’ fourth-line left winger, has consistently drawn praise from Murray.

``I've really enjoyed watching him improve here, since the training camp started this year,’’ Murray said. ``His physical makeup is that of a man. He is so mature, in that part of it. His testing has overwhelmed everybody in just about every area. His intelligence, his hockey adaptation to the NHL game is getting better.

``He's hungry, he talks, he asks questions in meetings when watching video. He's not just listening. `What about this? What about if I do that? I need to be better.' That's great stuff for a guy that's 19 years old. So those kinds of inquisitive questions, he's going to apply it. It's going to work in practice, and next thing you know, it's going to work in a game for him.’’

With Alexei Ponikarovsky (broken finger) out of the lineup, the Kings are expected to go with a third line of Brad Richardson, Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds, and a fourth line of Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Kevin Westgarth.

If the Kings end up returning Schenn to junior, that will likely mean an increased role for Lewis, who has appeared in only three of 13 games so far this season.

``I have confidence in Lewy,’’ Murray said. `I have no problem with that one at all. In the early part of the year, I wanted to play the y`oung guys, to get a good look as to where they were at, and Lewis was the guy who, I guess, got sacrificed in that decision. But I have lots of confidence in him. I saw good things in his game when he played here last year, and he's a better play today than he was last year.’’

On defense, the Kings are expected to pair Doughty with Rob Scuderi, Greene with Jack Johnson and Drewiske with Muzzin.

``They played pretty well together before, Greener and Jack,’’ Murray said. ``That's probably the way we'll lead. I don't want to say definitely, but that's probably the way we will go.’’

MR. 1,000
Ryan Smyth, who played in his 1,000th career NHL game on Saturday, will be honored in an on-ice ceremony before Thursday’s game. Smyth became the 257th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 games, and the 17th player to do so while wearing a Kings jersey.
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