On Nov. 24, defenseman Sean Durzi made his long-anticipated NHL debut for the Los Angeles Kings in a 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although the team, as a whole, did not play well, he was a bright spot in an otherwise terrible game. He posted two points, a goal and an assist, both on the power play. I will break down this game and his second, Nov. 27 against the Ottawa Senators, to see what impact Durzi can have on a struggling, streaky Kings team.
Durzi Before the Kings
Durzi has had an interesting path to the NHL. After having been cut from AAA hockey, he worked his way back before being drafted by the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack. He played solid hockey in the 2016-17 season, his NHL draft year, posting 38 points (2+36=38) in 60 games played for the Attack. Despite this, he went undrafted in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. It was a huge disappointment, especially since he and his family had flown into Chicago with hopes that they would witness his selection. Nevertheless, he did not give up. He worked harder: the following season, he posted an impressive 49 points (15+34=49) in just 40 games played. He immediately proved the 31 NHL general managers who had passed on him wrong and entered the 2018 draft poised to be picked in the second round. The Maple Leafs did just that by selecting the offensively-minded defenseman at 52nd overall.
Over the next two seasons, Durzi continued to post solid offensive and defensive numbers for the Sound Attack, eventually finishing his OHL career with the Guelph Storm. In Jan. 2019, his career path changed: his rights were traded to the Kings alongside fellow prospect Carl Grundstrom and Toronto’s 2019 first-round draft pick in exchange for Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin. The Kings, then in the midst of their abysmal 2018-19 season, had just begun their retool and were looking to bring new life into their depleted prospect pool. Durzi was brimming with young talent. The only question that remained is would he eventually be able to convert his game to the NHL level?
Durzi With the Reign
Durzi made his professional debut with the Kings’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Ontario Reign, in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. In his first season, he posted 14 points (2+12=14) with a plus/minus of minus-7 in 39 games played. The offensive numbers were promising for the Kings; however, it was clear that he would need to be more solid defensively if he hoped to make it in the NHL. He immediately showed improvement in his sophomore campaign by putting up 20 points (4+16=20) and a plus/minus of plus-1 in 39 games played. This showed the team that he was making the necessary adjustments to develop into a more complete player.
Durzi has always been the definition of a “sleeper prospect,” or a player that gets overlooked until his talent is uncovered and he becomes a valued asset. In the 2021-22 season, he began to shine with a Reign team that is currently atop the AHL’s Pacific Division. He has been a huge part of this success. In his first 12 games played he posted 13 points. These numbers earned him a recall to the Kings on Nov. 19 but he was not able to crack the Kings’ lineup and was returned to the Reign in time to play in the Nov. 22 game against the Stockton Heat where he promptly posted three assists. This amazing return earned him another recall to the Kings, and this time, he would make his debut.
After skating his solo lap in warmups, Durzi was ready to take the ice for the first time as an NHL player. He immediately made his presence known by setting up Viktor Arvidsson for a high tip on the power play to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period. It was exciting: not only did Durzi score his first point in his first game, but he also managed to do it on a Kings’ power play that has been terrible this season.
Durzi saw a lane and he took it, demonstrating a high amount of offensive confidence for a rookie defenseman. Many in his position would have looked for a lane to pass the puck to an open forward but he was assertive and it worked. The remainder of the game, however, did not go as planned for the Kings. The Kings found themselves down 1-6 with just under five minutes left to play in the third period. With another power play opportunity, head coach Todd McLellan played Durzi. He proceeded to score his first NHL goal on a highlight-worthy bar down shot. Posting two points in his debut is a special accomplishment for Durzi, especially as a defenseman.
While his offensive performance immediately translated to the NHL level, his defensive game was not quite there yet. There were several moments where he did not project confidence on the backend and none were more salient as his play during the Leafs’ second goal.
As the odd-man rush developed, Durzi was fixated on Wayne Simmonds, the player with the puck. Durzi motioned for Blake Lizotte to take the incoming man, Pierre Engvall. Simmonds was already being covered by Durzi’s defensive partner Olli Määttä and it is commonplace for the goaltender to take the man with the puck while the defenseman takes the potential pass; thus, it was absolutely unnecessary for Durzi to provide additional coverage on Simmonds. He could have easily taken Engvall instead of attempting to delegate it to Lizotte. Had he done this, he would have likely prevented the goal.
Other than a few defensive mistakes, Durzi had an impressive debut. He looked like he belongs in the NHL. After a brief American Thanksgiving break, he had the opportunity to prove that he could learn from the mistakes that he made in his first game. He played in the Kings’ Nov. 27 game against the Ottawa Senators and did just that. In addition to putting up another power-play primary assist on Viktor Arvidsson’s 1-0 goal, he simply looked like a more confident player and was playing decisively on the backend. That is an immensely positive sign for a Kings team that is looking to revamp its power play and get the defensemen more involved in the offensive zone.
Going forward, if Durzi continues to develop and improve his defensive play, I believe his stint with the Kings will be extended beyond the impending return of star defenseman Drew Doughty. Doughty’s return could also provide the Kings with an opportunity to shuffle the defensive parings, and perhaps, Durzi could be paired with a more defensively minded blueliner such as Alex Edler, who could cover for him to allow him to showcase his creativity in the offensive zone as he works on his defensive game. The emergence of Sean Durzi is an exciting development for a Kings team that is already brimming with young talent and, judging from his debut, it looks like he may be the missing piece on the Kings’ power play.
As a native Angeleno, Katie Nash is a life-long Kings fan and experienced amateur hockey journalist. She is excited to provide her perspective through covering the Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Follow her on instagram @la.kings.hockey.