Editor’s Note: In homage to “Who Wore it Best?” the NHL-produced series featured on both NHL.com and the league’s broadcast partners, JFTC continues its regular feature highlighting the top players to wear each sweater number in Los Angeles Kings’ franchise history. Check back to our first edition for a discussion of the selection process.
Continuing the trend which saw only one forward represented among the 100 players in franchise history to wear the numbers 1 through 5, 16 of the 17 players to wear the no. 6 sweater for the Kings were defenseman. The only non-blueliner was Todd Elik, a center who appeared in 122 games upon coming over from the Rangers’ IHL affiliate in a multi-player swap midway through the 1988-89 season.
The first Kings player to wear no. 6 was Dale Rolfe. Rolfe joined the Kings prior to the inaugural 1967-68 campaign when in need of a minor league affiliate, team owner Jack Kent Cooke purchased the Springfield AHL franchise from “old-time hockey” legend Eddie Shore, transferring that team’s players to the Kings organization. Prior to his Kings debut, Rolfe was a victim of the limited roster sports available during the Original Six era. After appearing in three games for the Boston Bruins during the 1959-60 season, Rolfe was sent back to the minors, failing to reappear in the Show until expansion doubled the size of the league.
According to an unattributed comment from Wikipedia (and could there be any more reliable source?) Rolfe “was recognized by opponents to be a smart defender who use[d] tremendous reach and strength to play the puck or take a man out of play.” He wore no. 6 for two and a half seasons with Los Angeles before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings. After leaving Detroit, Rolfe finished up his career with the New York Rangers. While with the Blue Shirts, he dropped the gloves multiple time with the Philadelphia Flyers’ Dave “Hammer” Schultz, including this 1974 playoff classic (literally between “once and future Kings”) which was ranked by the Philadelphia Inquirer as one of the most memorable fights in Broad Street Bullies’ history.
Sean O’Donnell played the most career games (541) among Kings’ players while wearing the no. 6, and racked up the most penalty minutes with 940. Jake Muzzin, who ranks second behind O’Donnell in games played wearing no. 6, tops the charts in career goals (51), assists (162) and points (213). Muzzin further holds the single-season team no. 6 record for assists, with 34 in 2017-18, while O’Donnell holds the no. 6 single-season lead in penalty minutes, accumulating 186 PIMS in 1998-99.
As noted above, Todd Elik is the only forward to wear no. 6 for the Kings, so it’s unsurprising that the 21 goals he scored during the 1989-90 campaign is the most-ever in a single season by a Kings player wearing the no. 6. Finally, Sheldon Kannegiesser not only posted the best career plus/minus rating (+51) among Kings’ players to have worn the no. 6 sweater, his +41 in 1974-75 is the second highest single-season plus/minus ever recorded by a Kings defenseman, trailing only the + 48 put up by Marty McSorley in 1990-91.
Of the 17 players to wear the no. 6 in Kings history, 13 were born in Canada, two in the United States, and one each in Sweden (Andreas Lilja) and Soviet-era Kazakhstan (Maxim Kuznetsov — by the way I hear Kazakhstan has become “very nice” since the Soviets pulled out). Two players, including Joachim Ryan, who currently wears the no. 6, played NCAA hockey prior to launching their professional careers.
Who wore No. 6 best?
Jake Muzzin (2010-2019)
Although he no longer plays for the Kings, Jake Muzzin is the first active NHL player among JFTC’s “Who Wore it Best?” honorees. The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Woodstock, Ontario native played 496 games over seven and a half seasons in Los Angeles, before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January 2019, in exchange for Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi and a 2019 first-round selection, which the Kings used to select Tobias Bjornfot. As noted above, Muzzin left the Kings as top scorer in goals, points and assists among those to have worn the no. 6 sweater.
Muzzin was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Draft. He returned to juniors for three additional seasons, named a first-team OHL all-star and the league’s top defenseman (well, technically “defenceman” because it’s a Canadian award) in 2009-10.
When the Penguins drafted Muzzin, he was still recovering from a herniated disc repair. The back injury limited Muzzin when he first returned to the OHL and after two years, the Penguins did not offer him an entry-level contract. He re-entered the 2009 Draft as an over-ager but was not selected by another team. Muzzin eventually signed as a free agent with the Kings in January, 2010.
After appearing in 11 games with the Kings that season, Muzzin was sent down to the then AHL Manchester Monarchs. He stayed in the AHL for the next season and a half, before being called up by the big club for the 2012 playoffs. However, because he did not play in any games, Muzzin appears in the team’s official celebratory picture, but his name is not engraved in the Stanley Cup for that particular season.
The following season, Muzzin made the jump to the NHL for good, appearing in 45 of the 48 games the Kings played during the lockout-shortened season. Among rookie defenders that year, Muzzin was first in plus/minus (+16), second in goals (7) and tied for third in points (16). He was named NHL Rookie of the Month in March 2013 and came in eighth in Calder Trophy balloting for league rookie of the year. He also won the Mark Bavis Award that season as top Kings newcomer.
Establishing himself as a consistent two-way performer, Muzzin helped lead a Kings squad that relied heavily on puck possession. In 2013 and 2014 he led the NHL in unblocked shots and attempts (known as Corsi). In 2015, he led all defenders in that category (of course, it continues to be argued among hockey cognoscenti whether Corsi is actually a good indicator of individual player value).
During the 2014 playoffs, he scored six goals and six assists in 26 games, averaging 23:23 minutes of ice time per game, including 37:18 in the double overtime Cup-clincher against the Rangers.
Muzzin also likes to shoot the puck. He ranks fourth all-time among Kings defenders in shots taken with 1052. In 2014, Muzzin told LAKings.com “I am a shooter. If I have an opportunity to create offense, I am going to do it.”
In that same interview, Rob Blake agreed with Muzzin’s self-assessment. “Drew [Doughty] and Jake together give us a really good offensive weapon on the blueline and opponents can’t overload one side of the ice,” Blake says. “Jake gets a lot of shots.”
As further indicator of his overall game, Muzzin ranks fourth all-time among Kings defenseman in blocked shots, and third all-time among Kings blueliners in hits — including this one on the Chicago Blackhawks’ Marcus Kruger during the 2014 Western Conference Final:
Unfortunately, approaching the 2018-19 trade deadline, the Kings were dwelling near the league cellar and Muzzin was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season. The Kings made the difficult decision to part with the soon-to-be 29-year-old defender and traded him to the Maple Leafs. On February 24, 2020, Muzzin agreed to a four-year, $22.5 million contract extension with Toronto.
Agree or disagree with the selection of Jake Muzzin as the Kings’ “No. 1 of No. 6s?” Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or hit up Mark on Twitter at @DevoreOnSports. Stay safe, and as always, Go Kings Go!