One week into the season, the stability of the Los Angeles Kings’ defensive corps was in serious question. Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, two anchors on last year’s Stanley Cup-winning backend, were both sidelined with long-term injuries. Two months later, after countless roster moves and permutations of defensive parings, one thing has become certain: Jake Muzzin has seized his opportunity, and deserves a look for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
Numbers-wise, there is no question Muzzin belongs in this conversation. He is tops amongst rookie defensemen in goals with six. In 26 games, Muzzin has 13 points, good for third amongst first-year defensemen. He also leads all rookie skaters in the plus/minus category with a gaudy +14. A testament to his toughness, Muzzin ranks fifth amongst rookies in penalty minutes with 33.
Another impressive candidate is Edmonton’s Justin Schultz. He has displayed good offensive ability on a struggling Oilers team. Unlike Schultz, Muzzin has an edge because he is on a winning team. There are a host of strong rookie forwards as well: Tampa Bay’s Cory Conacher, Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, and Chicago’s Brandon Saad have all put forth noteworthy efforts this season.
Only one King in history has won the Calder Trophy: Luc Robitaille in the 1986-1987 season. There is a third of a season still to be played, but as Muzzin gains more confidence and comfort with the fourth-place Kings, he should get more recognition league-wide for his performance as a rookie defenseman.