When the Los Angeles Kings traded defenseman Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January many fans felt Toronto had solidified their lineup enough to take a shot at the Stanley Cup. In return, the Kings received a first round draft pick in 2019 along with the rights to blue line prospect Sean Durzi and AHL forward Carl Grundstrom of Sweden.
It was widely believed it would take at least a year to decide who made out better in this trade since we’d have to see who the Kings take in the June draft and if the Leafs would re-sign Muzzin. Since the Leafs are one of the league’s better teams this season the first-round pick will come in the latter stages of the round. But a key part of this deal is the fact the 29-year-old Muzzin is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2020.
If Muzzin decides to explore the market and walks away from Toronto then the Kings definitely win the trade. On the other hand, if the Leafs decide to deal him between now and next year’s trade deadline things may sway Toronto’s way depending who they could land in return.
When it comes to Durzi, he was drafted in the second round by Toronto last year with the 52nd overall pick. He was eligible for the 2017 Draft and ranked number 124 by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, but since he was recovering from ankle surgery he wasn’t taken. But at the moment it doesn’t really matter how good he is or what his potential may be since the Kings haven’t signed him. He’s just 20 years old and not really big for a defenseman at 6-feet tall and weighing just under 200 lbs.
The Toronto-born Durzi started his Ontario Hockey League career with the Owen Sound Attack in 2015/16 after being taken with the 228th pick in the OHL Draft. He netted 10 goals and 16 points as a rookie with a minus-5 rating. In his sophomore season he posted two goals and 38 points and was a plus-26. He followed that up with 15 goals and 49 points in 2017/18 along with a plus-19 mark and was named to the league’s Second All Star Team.
The right-handed shooting Durzi then played 18 games with the Attack this season and chipped in with three goals and 17 points while going plus-8. The youngster was traded to the Guelph Storm on January 9th and has posted eight goals and 20 points as of March 12th with a fine plus-20 rating.
It’s obvious Durzi has an offensive upside with 140 points in 180 OHL games and with a plus-80 he seems to know what do do in his own end. He’s a legitimate prospect who is improving with each passing season. It’s unclear what the Kings plan on doing with the mobile and gifted skater, but if they sign him to an entry-level contract it’s another feather in their cap regarding the Muzzin trade.
But the Kings’ key to winning or losing the swap is going to be the play of Grundstrom, who just turned 21 years old on December 1st. The native of Umea, Sweden was taken with the 57th overall draft choice by Toronto in 2016 and signed to an entry-level contract. However, he returned to his homeland after the draft and played with Frolunda HC.
He ventured across the Atlantic in the spring of 2017 and suited up with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies for the 2016/17 postseason. He adjusted quickly and notched three goals and four points in six contests. Grundstrom didn’t hang around though and jetted back to Sweden and rejoined Frolunda the next season, notching 17 goals and seven assists in 35 games. He wasn’t a prolific scorer in the Swedish league and left it with 40 goals and 65 points in 153 games and another eight points in 27 playoff outings.
Grundstrom returned to Toronto when the Swedish campaign ended and suited up with the Marlies for two regular-season games with a goal and two helpers. He continued his fine play in the playoffs and helped Toronto capture the Calder Cup Championship by registering eight goals and six assists in 20 games.
When the current campaign faced off Grundstrom was back with the Marlies and had 13 goals and 16 assists in 42 games at the time of the trade to the Kings. Since arriving on the west coast it’s taken the 6-foot, 200 lb winger a little time to adjust as he’s scored three goals and seven assists in 13 appearances with the Ontario Reign of the AHL.
Grundstrom was then called up by the Kings in mid-March to see what he could do at the NHL level. Well, so far he’s been tremendous by scoring a goal in each of his first two games, becoming just the second King ever to achieve the feat after Brian Boyle in 2008.
Grundstrom scored in a 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on March 9th and then banged in the game winner against the Anaheim Ducks in a 3-2 victory the next night. The right-winger has formed a good partnership with center Adrian Kempe already and it’ll be interesting to see if it continues. Grundstrom played 13;03 minutes in his first game and was rewarded with 18:15 by head coach Willie Desjardins the next outing.
There’s no question Grundstrom’s pace will slow down once the adrenaline wears off, but he’s regarded as a fine team player who doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff. He can play both wings and is responsible defensively. As a bonus, he also knows how to put the puck in the net and utilize his teammates.
Back in Toronto, Muzzin had four goals and 17 assists in 50 games with the Kings this season and was a plus-10. It’s interesting to note that he’s a plus-4 in Toronto after 20 games and he’s chipped in with two goals and nine helpers. Muzzin was scoring at .42 points per game in LA this season and has upped that to .55 points per game with the offensively-minded Leafs. However, he was seeing 21:32 minutes of ice time per night with the Kings and he’s skating 19:40 a game under Toronto coach Mike Babcock.
There’s plenty of upside to the Muzzin trade for the Kings, especially if they sign Durzi. They acquired a 20-year-old defenseman, 21-year-old forward and a first-round draft pick in a rebuilding era and shed $4 million of salary for next season. Let’s not forget they also have a shot at the draft lottery this summer and perhaps the best chance at landing top prospect Jack Hughes.
It’s true the Leafs have a lot of young prospects in their organization and not much salary cap space to keep them all happy. But they gave up a lot for a player who could turn out to be just a one-year rental. There’s no arguing the value of Muzzin, but the Leafs don’t appear to be much of a different team since acquiring him. Perhaps GM Kyle Dubas needed to add at least one more player with grit at the trade deadline to help build the character of the squad.
On the other side of the coin, it looks like the biggest mistake Kings’ GM Rob Blake made in the transaction was not calling Grundstrom up earlier.