In search of the next rookie sensation, the Hurricanes went to the same place they found the last one. Carolina selected defenseman Ryan Murphy 12th overall in last week’s NHL entry draft, a former teammate of 2010 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner. The two played together for one year with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
“He’s just a special player,” GM Jim Rutherford said of Murphy. “He does a lot of things in [junior leagues] that other players can’t do.”
A dynamic puck-moving rearguard, Murphy is considered the most offensively gifted blueliner of the 2011 draft class, finishing second among OHL defensemen in scoring last season with 79 points (26 G, 53 A). He also led Team Canada in points during the World Under-18 Championships and was named the top defenseman of the tournament by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
“I looked at Carolina’s back end. It’s strong, but I think they need an offensive guy like me,” Murphy said.
In addition to his top-notch scoring ability, Murphy possesses excellent speed and vision. Honored with the OHL Western Conference’s “Best Skater Award” last year, the Aurora, Ontario, native has an extra gear that allows him to make plays other teenagers aren’t capable of. His vision on the ice is more comparable to an NHL veteran than an 18-year-old, a quality that will help him overcome his 5′ 11” frame.
Murphy made a name for himself as a premier power-play quarterback in Kitchener, finishing third in the OHL in assists while on the man-advantage with 33. The Hurricanes power play was nothing short of anemic last season, converting only 15.9% of their opportunities. Murphy’s competence during 5-on-4 play should translate well to the National Hockey League, especially with players such as Skinner and Eric Staal on the ice.
While most of the talk that surrounds Murphy relates to his offensive prowess, his presence should go a long way towards improving Carolina’s sub-par defense. The Hurricanes struggle defensively for several reasons; perhaps none more crippling than their inability to control the puck in their own zone. When Carolina faced teams with a strong forecheck, they often found themselves giving up an inordinate amount of scoring chances in a row. Allowing their opposition to determine the tempo of the game and dominate time of possession, the ‘Canes gave up more shots on goal than any team in the league last year.
Murphy may not be a very defensively sound hockey player, but his speed, passing, and vision should go a long way towards helping Carolina cut down their opponents’ second chance opportunities.
Even though scouts question Murphy’s chances of making the Hurricanes this season, the 12th overall pick believes he can play in the NHL right away.
“I’m a confident kid,” he said. “I’ve seen Jeff Skinner do it and I think, ‘Why can’t I do it as well?’ I’m going to do everything to be in the lineup next year.”