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World Cup

Jake Muzzin, Logan Couture land on Team Canada

After long wait, defenseman, forward representing county at World Cup

by Chris Stevenson / Correspondent

OTTAWA -- Jake Muzzin and Logan Couture sit at opposite ends the Team Canada locker room, the defenseman in the first stall on the wall to the left, the forward along the same wall in the last seat.

They have taken different routes to get here, but each is appreciating his first opportunity to represent Canada in an international tournament, the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

There are four players on Team Canada who were selected No. 1 in the NHL Draft, two who were No. 2, three who were No. 3 … you get the idea.

Muzzin is the player taken latest, selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round (No. 141) of the 2007 NHL Draft.

His progress in his junior career was slowed by surgery on two herniated disks in 2005. The Penguins didn't sign him and he wound up playing an overage season, his fourth in the Ontario Hockey League.

He signed with the Los Angeles Kings as a free agent in January 2010 and after three seasons in the American Hockey League earned a spot in the NHL.

Now he'll play for Team Canada, and Tuesday he scanned the room and took in his teammates being interviewed.

"First overall [picks], first picks, and right into the show," the 27-year-old said. "I took a little bit of the beaten path and made it here. I'm glad I took the path that I did because I appreciate it a little more. Maybe some of these guys have always been here. I'm happy I'm here and I'm excited and looking forward to getting it going."

Video: SJS@LAK, Gm1: Muzzin draws out Jones, banks in puck

What did it mean to him to be selected?

"It's huge, man. It's something you look forward to your whole career," he said. "It's something you work for. To be here with all these guys is an honor and I'm just excited to get it going."

Drew Doughty, Muzzin's teammate and sometime defense partner with the Kings, leaned back in his stall beside Muzzin. Doughty has known Muzzin most of his life, each having grown up in Southern Ontario.

"Muzz is a great player and he's improved so much over the years," Doughty said. "When I was a kid I grew up playing against him. I was probably 7 years old. He was always one of the best players growing up our whole lives.

"He was a first-rounder in the OHL and then he had some injury issues that set him back a little bit going into the NHL and he had to go through the [AHL] to get here, but he's always had all the tools and I'm not one bit surprised that he's here."

Team Canada forward Jonathan Toews, who has gone head to head with Muzzin in Stanley Cup Playoff battles between his Blackhawks and the Kings, said Muzzin gives Team Canada a necessary ingredient.

"When he plays with Drew he complements Drew well because he's that guy that kind of wraps you up and you can't get away from him," Toews said. "He's got a great stick. He's a big, physical guy and even for his size (6-foot-3, 216 pounds), he moves well. Once in a while you have to look out for him too, because he's going to lay out that big hit.

"He's exactly what this team needs. We have a lot of speed and skill, but he brings that smart defensive play as well. He's going to make it really tough for other top forwards to play against."

This could have been Couture's second opportunity to sit in the Team Canada locker room at Canadian Tire Centre. He was bitterly disappointed to be left out of the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship here, where Canada won its fifth gold medal in a row.

He was a first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks (No. 9) in 2007 and was a star with the Ottawa 67's of the OHL at the time, so the slight hurt.

Now he is getting his chance, added to the roster when forward Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars withdrew because of injury.

Video: Logan Couture replaces Jamie Benn on Team Canada

"It's fun. It's an honor," said Couture, one of the NHL's top two-way forwards. "I had an idea there was a possibility I'd get a chance. I was getting ready this summer to try and be ready for it.

"To even be mentioned for this team, the best hockey players in the world come from Canada, to be mentioned as a possible player for this team was an honor."

Couture skated on a line with Toews and Tyler Seguin on the first day of camp and was with Toews and Steven Stamkos on Tuesday when Seguin missed practice because of illness.

When it comes to a role, Couture said, "Whatever they want. The lines, I'm sure, are going to change throughout the tournament. Whenever I go over the boards, I'm going to try and help the team."

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