"It would be premature of me to try and determine where his potential will take him, but I can tell you he moves well and covers a lot of ice in a butterfly position."
-- Carolina goaltending coach Tom Barrasso on Mike Murphy
Murphy had just come off the ice after a 33-save, 5-3 victory, over Detroit on Monday in their second game of the NHL Prospects Tournament here at Center I.C.E. Arena. Waiting for him were Hurricanes associate head coach Ron Francis, General Manager Jim Rutherford and Albany River Rats coach Jeff Daniels, all filing over to offer a congratulatory tap on the shoulder.
Needless to say, Murphy was all smiles. His rapid ascent up the Carolina depth chart is well documented, and having the support of coaches and management -- including goaltending coach Tom Barrasso -- means everything.
But let's not jump to conclusions. Murphy is certainly no Cam Ward just yet, and he's not in the vicinity of Carolina backup Michael Leighton, either. American Hockey League standout Justin Peters also is coming off a pretty successful 2008-09 season in Albany.
Still, Daniels is looking forward to the competition about to take place for the No. 1 goaltending job in Albany this season.
"I think competition is healthy," Daniels told NHL.com. "I think Justin proved to himself last year that he's ready to take that next step in his career. Murphy's coming in after a really strong junior career. I'm happy with our goaltending situation, and I know Justin knows he's going to be pushed. At the same time, Murph has to make sure he earns his ice time."
"Justin has really developed nicely from his first year to the second as a pro, and if he makes the same jump this season it's going to be hard for somebody to unseat him as the No. 1 guy in Albany," Rutherford said. "But Murphy has a great resume. Everywhere he's gone, he's carried his team, much like he did for us against Detroit's prospects in the first half of our game with them. I do know there's going to be more competition there, but I'm excited about it. We have a guy that has two years of professional hockey under his belt (Peters) and another good one in his first year (Murphy)."
Peters finished 19-30-4 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 56 games with Albany in 2008-09. He also served as a backup with the Hurricanes in four games but didn't get to play. Barrasso anticipates Murphy, a sixth-round discovery in 2008, giving Peters a run for his money this season.
"It would be premature of me to try and determine where his potential will take him, but I can tell you he moves well and covers a lot of ice in a butterfly position," Barrasso told NHL.com. "His recovery speed is excellent, but what I really like most about him is the fact he competes hard. You can have a lot of tools in the toolbox, but if you don't compete, you won't have a lot of success."
Murphy, who signed an entry-level contract with Carolina in March, finished the 2008-09 season with an Ontario Hockey League-best 2.08 GAA and a league-best .940 save percentage in 54 games for the Belleville Bulls. He finished 40-9-2-2 to help lead the Bulls to first place in the OHL's Eastern Conference and was named the OHL Goalie of the Year for the second-straight season -- the first player in OHL history to earn such a distinction. He was also named the Canadian Hockey League's goalie of the year.
"The CHL is a huge hockey league, so it's quite an honor," Murphy said. "The year before, I was runner-up so I was a bit disappointed because I didn't know if the chance would come up again. But I owe a lot to my goalie coach in Belleville (Sebastien Farrese). He said at the start of the year that's what we were going to work towards, and we had a team that worked really hard in front of me every night -- and, combined with a great goalie coach, things went well."
So much so that Murphy saluted his mentor by having his name scripted on the back of his goalie helmet. Today, the on- and off-ice lessons provided by his new mentor, Barrasso, have been invaluable.
"I'm learning every day," Murphy said. "I'm a young goalie and I have a different style. But I'm lucky I get to work with Tom Barrasso every day. He gives me extra pointers but still lets me play my game. He just gives me a heads-up on what I should try -- and when I try it, it feels great so he's helped me out a lot."
Murphy's goal prior to the Prospects Tournament was to raise a few eyebrows and prove to the organization that he is on the right path for future success. He's obviously done that -- and then some.
"It's great competing in this tournament, especially for Carolina, which is such a great organization with some of the best fans in the NHL," Murphy said. "It's a great feeling just to throw on that jersey and it's extra special when Jim Rutherford and Tom Barrasso, two phenomenal goaltenders, are watching your game."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.