Mike Futa knows what the Los Angeles Kings are losing in Jake Muzzin.
The team’s assistant general manager first met the defenceman more than a decade ago when Muzzin was a member of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Muzzin eventually developed into a quality top-four NHL defenceman who was a “black ace” during the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup run then played a vital role on the blue line beside Drew Doughty when they won again in 2014.
Muzzin was also among the first defencemen to be rewarded with a lucrative, long-term contract thanks in large part to his strong possession and shot attempt metrics.
The 29-year-old was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday for forward Carl Grundstrom, the rights to unsigned defenceman Sean Durzi, plus a 2019 first-round draft pick.
The Kings, currently in last place in the Western Conference, are about to undergo somewhat of a rebuild so Muzzin getting dealt doesn’t come as a surprise. Still, Futa will miss him.
“I was very fortunate to run into Jake when he was a free agent [in junior] and we hit it off and I just fell in love with him as a player and, our development team, we ended up signing him as a free agent and brought him in,” Futa explained during a Tuesday appearance on Prime Time Sports. “He did a wonderful job on our development team, did an incredible job, and he turned out to be an incredible part of the success we had.”
The trade occurred one month prior to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, which should benefit the Maple Leafs down the stretch run as they look to secure home-ice advantage in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Muzzin’s current contract runs through the 2019-20 campaign, so this isn’t a rental player situation either.
In fact, Futa described Monday’s trade as “an exceptional deal for both teams” and is happy with the three pieces the Kings got in return.
“Obviously, you look at the standings, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a high first-round pick but it’s a first-round pick and we feel that we’ve done really well with the two prospects we acquired and Toronto gets an incredible kid that’s a champion,” Futa said. “He’s another piece for them to achieve the goals that Jake achieved here as a Los Angeles King.”
Grundstrom is not quite NHL-ready but he’s close.
“He’ll start in Ontario with our American League team,” Futa said when giving his assessment of the 21-year-old Umea native. “The Swedish players are such honest, honest players and he’s a guy we see as a bottom-six, honest hockey player that’s going to play in the National Hockey League. He’s going to produce. He plays a hard, heavy game but he’s got some speed, he’s got some character, he’s got some familiarity with [countryman] Adrian Kempe.
“We had done our homework on him. We liked him in his draft year.”
Futa added that Kings management is happy with Grundstrom’s progression and gave credit to Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff. Grundstrom, a 2016 second-round pick, had eight goals and 14 points in 20 playoff games en route to winning a Calder Cup with the Marlies one season ago.
There is some familiarity with Durzi within the Kings organization, too, as Kings amateur scout Bryan Denney was the director of player personnel with the Owen Sound Attack when Durzi was drafted into the OHL.
“We really know that we’ve got two really high-character young guys that we knew personally and felt comfortable with, and we think that they’re going to be big fits for our future,” Futa added. “There’s still plenty of work to do but we’re comfortable with our development team and stuff that we’re going to be able to have a real good swing – particularly with Durzi.
“He’s got some big-time offensive power-play upside, but it’s a work in progress. He’s had some injury problems and durability’s been a bit of an issue, but a high, high calibre kid. Now it’s up to us to make sure the first-round pick, whether it’s 20 or 30, is somebody that we make work for our future as well.”