How Jake Muzzin overcame three 'noes' to carve successful NHL career

Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin will play on Tuesday after missing six games with an injury. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

“Highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity” - Adam M. Grant

A lifetime ago, when I was a young teen, I landed a telemarketing job trying to recruit readers to sign up for magazine subscriptions. Our team leader told us the rule of “three noes”. The rule was a simple one to follow. Don’t take “No” for an answer the first or second time. Try to wear down the potential client and get a “Yes.” Only when they have given three “noes” do you thank them for their time and consideration.

Imagine trying to graduate from the ranks of major junior hockey and earn the trust of decision makers at the NHL level. How does an athlete remain motivated and focused on his end goal when he gets three “noes” trying to physically prove he is worthy of an opportunity to play pro hockey?

Nothing is given

Jake Muzzin makes it clear that the way he approaches people, decisions, and obstacles was formed by the structure at home with his parents Judy and Ed.

“I credit my parents for where I am today,” Muzzin said this week. “I grew up in a home where I was made to understand that nothing comes easy. Everything I set my mind to will be hard to achieve. Looking back, it was my parents who gave me the strength and structure to overcome obstacles.

“The other thing my parents did for me was make me understand that I had to take responsibility and figure things out when they didn’t go my way. If I wasn’t getting the ice time, or opportunity, I thought I deserved early in my career they didn’t allow me to sulk about it. They essentially told me it was up to me to come up with a solution to get what I thought I deserved. Looking back, it was some of the best guidance I have ever received.”

His three Noes

Muzzin flew under the radar in his NHL draft year. He played only 37 regular season games that year after recovering from back surgery. Ultimately, he was selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I was a bit surprised to be picked by Pittsburgh,” he said. “I obviously hadn’t played a lot of hockey that year and was coming off back surgery. I’m from Woodstock (Ontario) and the Penguins scout (Jay Heinbuch) was also from my area. I guess he convinced the team to take a chance on me. I was grateful for the opportunity.

“My next two seasons in the Soo were below my standard looking back and the Penguins decided not to offer me a contract. I went through the draft again after that, which resulted in me becoming a free agent. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at that stage of my development. I now had the opportunity to audition for an NHL contract for all the teams in the league. It motivated me. I had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove people who doubted me wrong.”

“That summer Joe (agent Joe Resnick) set me up with a tryout in Chicago. I attended their development camp, but they didn’t offer me an NHL camp tryout.

“In August of that summer you (Bukala) and Nashville offered me a rookie camp tryout.”

Muzzin arrived in Nashville for our rookie camp in early September of that year (2009). He was in great condition and his camp slowly built momentum. We travelled to Atlanta for exhibition games against the Thrashers (remember them!).

His first game was average. Muzzin struggled to execute and identify quick enough. It was a sloppy viewing by his standard. I recall our post-game meeting and people on the Preds staff doubting his ability. I also recall stating he would be better the next day and expect him to set a new bar.

His second game was outstanding. So much so that he would eventually be invited to the Predators’ main camp. I felt he genuinely had a chance to earn a contract.

“I felt good at the camp, but didn’t have an expectation of getting a contract,” Muzzin said. “I wasn’t nervous about earning a deal. I also wasn’t concerned about leaving without a contract. I had already gone through the process of getting a ‘no’ twice so I was prepared either way.”

I battled hard to get Jake a contract in Nashville and I recommend any regional scout who believes in a prospect to do the same.

At the end of the day our upper management group decided against signing Jake to an entry-level contract. He remained a free agent and was returned to the Greyhounds for his overage season.

Muzzin had already been dealt a hand of three noes.

Finally, contract offers

“After leaving Nashville, and returning to the Soo, my motivation went to another level,” Muzzin said. “I have to credit Mike Stapleton (head coach). He had a way of delivering a message and had been a pro himself. He told me I was a much better player and had more potential than even I recognized.”

In 2009-10 Muzzin scored 15 goals and 67 points for the Greyhounds.

He was the captain of the team, logged over 25 minutes per game, and was used in all situations.

He was a league all-star and won the Max Kaminsky Trophy for top defenceman in the OHL.

Teams took notice.

“Suddenly there were several teams interested and a bidding war ensued,” Muzzin said. “Eventually my entry level deal paid close to first round money. I know Mike (Stapleton) had pushed Anaheim to sign me since he was close with Bob Murray.

“I ended up signing with LA after one of their development coaches was in seeing Jordan Nolan play. The Kings had Nolan in their system. I guess he went back to their management group and told them they had to look at signing me. It’s interesting, looking back, how that came together.”

Words of Wisdom

“Things didn’t get easier for me once I turned pro,” Muzzin said. “I was a healthy scratch in Manchester (AHL) for a stretch and didn’t understand why at the time. I kept pushing, however, and eventually ended up on the Kings roster full-time starting in 2013.

“I always keep coming back to what my parents instilled in me. Nothing is given. I found ways to work harder, train better, prepare better over the years. I improved my mindset.”


After getting three “noes” Jake Muzzin hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2014 as a member of the LA Kings.

In 2015 Muzzin was a member of Team Canada’s Gold medal-winning World Championship team. In 2016 he was part of the winning World Cup of Hockey team.

And this season he will surpass the 700 games played mark for his NHL career.

Muzzin’s leadership style brings immense value to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization both on and off the ice.

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