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Blue Jackets' Murray starting to display full skill set

Saturday, 09.21.2013 / 9:00 AM
Craig Merz  - NHL.com Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- The long-anticipated debut of defenseman Ryan Murray in a Columbus Blue Jackets uniform got off to a rocky start Sunday, but the ending in the first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the fans in Nationwide Arena a glimpse of the future.

Murray, the second pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, showed he is recovered fully from a serious shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of last season.

In his debut preseason game, the 19-year-old (he turns 20 on Sept. 27) played most of the game paired with veteran James Wisniewski and scored at 4:38 of overtime off a pass by RJ Umberger.

"The first couple of shifts I made some pretty brain-dead plays," Murray said. "I didn't do too great. I felt a little nervous at the start. It was a good way to finish … not the greatest start."

Murray is battling Tim Erixon, Cody Goloubef, Ilari Melart and David Savard for one of the two remaining spots on an otherwise experienced defensive corps.

Coach Todd Richards said he knows he has a potential breakout player in Murray, but that there is still a long way to go.

"He's had some struggles in games," Richards said. "He's had some good games, too, but just getting comfortable with the speed, I think he's progressed. That's what you want to see from your young players."

Murray is trying to make up for lost time. After being drafted by the Blue Jackets, he returned to his junior team, the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, but played only 17 games (two goals, 15 assists) before being forced to curtail his season because of a torn labrum.

He had tried to play through the injury but instead made it worse, precipitating surgery that would lead to six months of rehabilitation before he was cleared to play.

"I went to see a couple of doctors and they both said you've probably got a torn labrum, you can play with a torn labrum, but if it pops out you're in trouble," Murray said. "That's exactly what happened."

Murray took a chance by playing, but had been told that others had finished the season with the same injury.

But the season-ending injury occurred Nov. 16, 2012, when he fell to the ice after a collision with a Victoria Royals player.

"It was just before the lockout too," Murray said of when he initially injured the shoulder. "I wanted a chance to play so I kept going. It was just unfortunate it popped out."

It was a moment Murray knew could come but was hoping to avoid.

"The doctors said keep on top of [the torn labrum]," he said. "I did but, looking back on it now I know a lot more about how to strengthen it and different types of exercises that you can do to help it. It got to the point where it couldn't hold on anymore."

Unfortunately for Murray, the injury was the type that needed extensive healing before an operation could be done to correct the problem, so the surgery was put off until early January.

He admitted it was hard to stay positive at times.

"I had to wait a month and half before they even operated on it, so there's waiting for that," he said. "Then you have the surgery and you wonder if you can come back or not.

"Then you start rehab and you think you're getting somewhere, then you realize you have six more months of the same thing before you can do anything. It was a first-time experience going through something like that and hopefully I won't have to do it again."

Murray's mood brightened when the Blue Jackets brought him to Columbus in April to continue his rehab, and he even was allowed to start skating by the end of the month, although contact was not permitted.

He was cleared to play at the Blue Jackets' development camp in July, and by the start of the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., on Sept. 5, he was ready for contact.

"My first game was pretty rusty," he said. "I kind of eased into it a little bit, but after that everything felt fine. The shoulder’s solid."

Richards agreed that Murray (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) has not shied from hits during the preseason.

"The shoulder's strong. The shoulder's fine," he said.

What the coaches and players have noticed is a maturity beyond Murray's years. But then again, that's not an unusual compliment for the Regina, Saskatchewan, native.

In 2012, at age 18 and prior to being drafted, he became the second-youngest player behind Paul Kariya (in 1993) to play for Canada at IIHF World Hockey Championship.

"It was pretty incredible," Murray said. "The first time hopping on the bus and you're looking around at all the names and you see [Dion] Phaneuf, [Ryan] Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry and [P.K.] Subban."

Murray has been anything but starry-eyed on the ice for the Blue Jackets.

"He's very calm," Umberger said. "That's been the M.O. on him, that he's very poised, calm and ahead of where he should be. He looks good so far. He's still learning, but he's going to be a tremendous player."

Whether that translates to a spot on the roster when Columbus opens the regular season against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 4 remains to be seen, but Murray continues to make the decision difficult for the coaching staff.

"I think he knows he can play here," left wing Matt Calvert said. "Believing you can play with these guys is a huge confidence boost. If he keeps that confidence and works hard, he'll be fine."

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