The Maple Leafs got their defenceman.
On Monday night the Toronto Maple Leafs opened the stretch drive to the trade deadline by acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings for Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi and a 2019 first-round pick. The Maple Leafs had a primary need for another blueliner or two and though Muzzin isn’t a right-handed shot that would more naturally complement left shots Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly, he is undoubtedly a top-four stalwart who has been Los Angeles’ best defender this season.
On top of being a solid player, the benefit of adding Muzzin is that he comes with a $4-million-AAV contract that runs through next season as well, so Toronto paid the price of a first-round pick and two prospects for a couple years of control. If Gardiner walks as a free agent this summer, the Leafs will be more prepared for it than before.
And they didn’t have to give up any of their top prospects, such as Timothy Liljegren or Rasmus Sandin, or a player off the NHL roster like Kasperi Kapanen, in order to make such a big addition. But this wasn’t a cheap acquisition. Nothing is guaranteed in the package the Leafs moved, but the Kings saw others behind the big names on Toronto’s depth chart that made them feel good about jumping at an early offer.
“I think the consternation regarding our prospect pool is just a little bit ill-informed,” Leafs GM Kyle Dubas told the media just before the all-star break. “I can tell you that based on the calls we get from other teams asking about a litany of players within that system. I feel we have the prospect capital both to develop very good NHL players to help us out and to make trades if we need to. We also have all of our draft picks and then some. I think we are very well suited to do whatever we need to do when it comes to moving out various elements of our club to better our club now.”
So just what did the Leafs give up for Muzzin? Here’s a look at the newest Kings, Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi.
Carl Grundstrom, Toronto Marlies, AHL
Picked in the second round, 57th overall, in 2016, the 21-year-old is playing through his first full season in North America. He has, however, experienced two playoffs with the Marlies, including 2018’s title run. In total he played 26 post-season AHL games with Toronto, scoring 11 goals and 18 points.
When you look at the kind of game Grundstrom plays, you see why the Kings were interested. At six-feet, 194 pounds, his size isn’t overwhelming, but he overcomes that with a ferocity on the forecheck that plays bigger. Grundstrom will bring physical play into the corners and be a pain for the defenders in puck battles. These elements are what starts to put him on the NHL radar as a third-liner.
“I was impressed, though I can’t say I was surprised,” Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe said about Grundstrom’s mean streak before this season. “He really showed that in the short time he was with us the previous year and then going to Leaf camp.
“We’ve come to expect that from him, that competitive side. He’s a strong guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder, with a skill-set and finish around the net.”
While that competitive baseline makes him a good bet to be an NHLer before long, it’s the last part of what Keefe said that makes him even more intriguing and possibly able to one day fulfill a need for the Kings.
In Grundstrom’s last season with MODO in Sweden, he was the highest-scoring under-20 player in the league and his 14 goals were five better than any other junior-aged player. He is a goal scorer first and if his output in the AHL this season (13 goals, 16 assists) persists, it would be the first time in two years he finished with more helpers than goals.
He leaves the Marlies as the third-highest goal scorer on the team this season after finishing second to Andreas Johnsson in last spring’s Calder Cup run. Grundstrom doesn’t just win puck battles, he creates chances and goals afterwards, which slots in well with a Kings team that likes to play heavy, but desperately needs to find players who can play with pace and find the back of the net.
Sean Durzi, Guelph Storm, OHL
A second-rounder, 52nd overall, in 2018, Durzi is a six-foot, 187-pound offensive defenceman who brings the exact kind of skill-set that generally plays well in today’s NHL. He’s 20 years old and travelled to the 2017 draft in Chicago, but never heard his name called.
“It didn’t go my way,” Durzi said after he did get picked last summer. “I took it as a learning curve and I think if you take anything like that, you can grow from it and be better. I definitely took that as a learning curve, went through that off-season, went to a few camps and I learned a lot. The Leafs taught me a lot last year.”
Despite missing a month and a half to injury, Durzi has put up strong point totals in his overage OHL season with 28 in 26 games. In fact, he was nearly a point-per-game player with Owen Sound and his place as a difference maker in the league was confirmed when the Guelph Storm traded for him in early January as they beefed up for a run at the league title. Since arriving with the Storm, Durzi has been even more productive.
Last season Durzi was also limited to just 40 games played, but the 21 power-play points he put up in that time was a similar per-game rate to some of the top players at the position. This year, his five power-play goals are just two off the OHL league lead among defencemen, and his 1.08 overall points-per-game rate is fifth-best among blueliners.
“The type of player I am is someone who runs my game off my hockey IQ,” Durzi told NHL.com last summer. “It’s something I’ve had for a long time and as my skills develop, I think I’m only going to get better. I’m more of an offensive guy, a guy who can run the power play.”