Jake Muzzin spent much of his first half-season in Toronto playing catch-up.
Now, he’s further ahead than many Maple Leafs in re-acclimatizing for what he hopes is a long run for the club through the spring of 2020.
The blueliner and his trademark beard were among the first arrivals for informal summer skates this week at a west end rink. After eight years with the Los Angeles Kings and much different late-summer scenery, Muzzin, his wife and baby daughter moved north a couple of weeks ago and he hit the ice with a group of mostly young Leafs and Marlies.
“You’d like to start … from the start, with the team,” Muzzin said Monday. “It’s tough getting thrown into something, but that was part of the game. It’s definitely nice to be here now, settled in and to go through camp with the rest of the guys. That will be a little better for me.”
The left-shooting Muzzin played mostly with the now-departed Nikita Zaitsev following the late-January deal with the Kings. Projections for training camp in three weeks put him in another left-right dynamic with newcomer Cody Ceci. A regular partner and a greater grasp of the Leafs system should help in what is Muzzin’s last season under his contract at $4 million US before unrestricted free agency.
“I won’t have to be thinking in practice like a mad man,” Muzzin laughed. “It will be nice to know some of the drills and know what the coaches want. That way, you can just go and play.”
Ceci, Tyson Barrie, Ben Harpur and Jordan Schmaltz have joined Toronto’s defence in the off-season with Zaitsev, Calle Rosen and Ron Hainsey gone, Jake Gardiner a UFA and Travis Dermott questionable for camp after having shoulder surgery.
“It’s tough to see guys go, especially those who’ve been here for while,” Muzzin said. “But it’s part of the business. I think we filled some spots we needed to and we’re excited for the start of the season.”
BIGGER SAM-PLE SIZE
The first order of business for some of the Leaf kids in town early will be prepping for the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. Hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, it’s the first time Toronto has participated. The Leafs, Wings, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, N.Y. Rangers and St. Louis are in the pool and the event is foremost in the mind of forward Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.
The 19-year-old, who looked more like the stick boy when drafted by the Leafs in 2018, now looks a lot more stocky than his initial measurements of 5-foot-10, 160 pounds.
“That’s what everybody says,” Der-Arguchintsev mentioned of the compliments. “Maybe I have grown a bit. I don’t know my height, but maybe I look a little taller.”
Marlies rookie camp linemate Mason Marchment described him as a “good little sewer player” last year and “Sam” as he likes to be called, got in some pro time late last year with the Leafs’ ECHL champion affiliate Newfoundland Growlers. He’d love to make a further impression in St. John’s in the main Leaf camp after Traverse City.
“It’s my second week here and it’s a bit different (gravitating to NHL-style) summer training,” said the Musovite, who spent last year in his native Russia. “There are pretty hard workouts for me, and it’s good.
“I come to the rink and Jake Muzzin is already here working out. He’s a good guy, helping the young guys. And I love the way he plays.
“For me, it’s getting ready for the rookie tournament. I have to be good and feel 100 per cent. Toronto likes to play with skill, you have to compete and play smart. It doesn’t matter what height and weight you are, you have to play hard.”
Growlers coach John Snowden and his staff already provided a good grounding in that mindset.
“It was a close group, I felt comfortable playing my game there right away,” Der-Arguchintsev said. “After a disappointing season in the OHL (his Peterborough Petes were early playoff casualties despite his career-best 40 assists), I went there and found myself again.”
There is no real update in the game of contractual chicken between Mitch Marner and the Leafs, both sides apparently willing to wait until camp or more specifically, the end of pre-season. That’s when the club can try a Plan B and use the cap relief it acquired in July for the idled David Clarkson and combine it with the similarly sidelined dollars of Nathan Horton, a potential total of $10 million and change.
But Marner is under no obligation to accept, even if GM Kyle Dubas deserves some points for thinking outside the box. If the Marner camp doesn’t move off its long rumoured price – Auston Matthews’ money in excess of $11 million a season, it’s either consider a shorter bridge deal, which neither side is high on, or Marner takes the Leafs to the RFA wire as William Nylander did last autumn.
Waiting to see what unfolds is UFA defenceman Gardiner, yet to sign elsewhere in the hopes the Leafs find more extra cash, but at this stage that would mean trading a set roster piece.
If Der-Aruchintsev is bigger, the Leafs/Marlies should also get more bang for their buck from 6-foot-4 Russian Egor Korshkov, who was rumbling around the ice on Monday. He had a goal in nine playoff games with the Marlies last spring after his KHL season, their second round pick in 2016 at 31st overall after they took Matthews first … Few trades ever feature the Leafs and Canadiens and fewer still involve francophone players. But one deal made 27 years ago Tuesday benefitted Toronto, which picked up defenceman Sylvain Lefebvre for a third-round pick. Lefebvre became a stalwart in two conference final runs, while the Habs used the pick on QMJHL defender Martin Belanger, who never played in the NHL.