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Muzzin earns warm welcome from Maple Leafs teammates, fans

Defenseman has three points against Ducks, adjusting quickly after trade

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Jake Muzzin had lived this moment inside his head over and over again.

Wearing Toronto Maple Leafs blue and white. Having a big offensive game. Delivering a bone-crushing check. Then capping it off by saluting the home crowd after being named the game's First Star.

Those childhood dreams were when he was playing in his hometown of Woodstock, Ontario, 90 miles southwest of Scotiabank Arena. On those occasions he would pretend to be Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and other Maple Leafs greats of yesteryear.

 

[RELATED: Anaheim-Toronto game recap | All Ducks vs. Maple Leafs highlights]

 

He lived his dream Monday.

Exactly one week after being acquired by the Maple Leafs in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, the veteran defenseman received a standing ovation when he saluted the capacity crowd of 18,858 at the conclusion of Toronto's 6-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks. His goal and two assists were his first three points with the Maple Leafs, helping to earn him first star honors.

Chants of "Muz-zin, Muz-zin" could be heard out in the arena bowl as he made his way into the Maple Leafs locker room, where a scrum of roughly 20 reporters were waiting.

"Excuse me, sweaty man coming through," he joked, making his way through the pack of microphones and cameras.

Video: ANA@TOR: Muzzin beats buzzer for first as Maple Leaf

Sweaty. Funny. And already a fan favorite through his first three games in Toronto.

"I couldn't have imagined a welcome like this," Muzzin, 29, said. "Coming here, I didn't know what to expect with media and with hockey in general. I'm very pleased how it's going. There are some avenues for success."

Muzzin said he's already been stopped by fans a handful of times while walking around the city. On each occasion, the message has been the same.

Welcome to Toronto.

"It's been awesome," he said.

The Maple Leafs feel the same way, given the way Muzzin is checking off all the boxes they were looking for.

Muzzin was acquired from the Kings on Jan. 28 for forward Carl Grundstrom, the rights to defenseman Sean Durzi and a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. He can become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Toronto was seeking a first-pair defenseman who could add offense, play with the type of grit and muscle to slow down the opposing team's cycle and be a steadying influence on the back end.

Muzzin exhibited all those qualities Monday.

His goal was a blast from the point on the power play that cleanly beat Ducks goalie John Gibson. His two assists showcased his quick puck movement, especially out of his own zone. 

But the play that drew the most cheers came in the first period, when he slammed Ducks forward Corey Perry with a crushing hit. Perry, a long-time rival when Muzzin played for the Kings, staggered to the bench but was able to continue. The two had a private chat during a break in the third period.

"I was just asking him if he was all right," Muzzin said, breaking into a big grin.

"It was just another hit. Just trying to close in and make a play before the blue line, really. Sometimes the hits are there, sometimes they're not. When they're there, I'm going to try to make them. When they're not, I'm not going to try to force it."

Video: Johnsson's four points propel Maple Leafs in 6-1 rout

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock is pleased with what he's seen from Muzzin; the shot, the physical play, all of it.

"The way teams have played against us on the power play, they're basically just playing down low," Babcock said. "They don't respect the top, so they're going to have to do a better job of that. I thought [Muzzin's] area with his shot really helped.

"The other thing is he's a big body, he knows how to play. You don't win two Stanley Cups by accident. He's really good in his own zone, denies the back, makes a good outlet pass, he's a big body and plays real hard between the whistles. Obviously with his experience and the kind of man he is, he's going to make us a better team."

Muzzin said his early success with the Maple Leafs has been buoyed by the support he's received from his teammates and the entire organization. In that regard, defenseman Morgan Rielly, Muzzin's new partner, has been a standout.

When the trade was first announced, Rielly received a text from Kings defenseman Dion Phaneuf, his former teammate in Toronto.

Rielly welcomed Muzzin by taking him out to dinner in Detroit last Thursday. The two watched the Super Bowl together on Sunday.

"Dion told me multiple times how great Jake was to him when he got traded from Ottawa to Los Angeles last season," Rielly said. "He said Jake really helped make him feel comfortable in his new surroundings, so he wanted me to do the same for Jake with the Leafs. That's what I've tried to do."

Muzzin's arrival has meant Rielly has been forced to move to the right side after years of playing on the left. The shift has been relatively seamless so far.

"He's been such a big help so far, both to me and the team," Rielly said.

Babcock couldn't agree more. Neither could the fans.

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