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Blue Jackets leaning on Murray to stay healthy, continue two-way prowess

Defenseman now one of the most experienced on Columbus blue line.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Ryan Murray's NHL career has been hampered by multiple injuries, but that isn't stopping the Blue Jackets from counting on the 24-year old, two-way defenseman as a significant piece of the puzzle next season.

After signing a qualifying offer on Saturday as a restricted free agent (RFA), a one-year deal worth $2.825 million, Murray will head into training camp expected to play on the second defense pairing, most likely skating with either David Savard or Markus Nutivaara.

"It's been a good summer," said Murray, who had one goal, 11 assists and 12 points in 44 games last season. "I feel great and I'm getting ready for the upcoming season. We have a good team and I'm looking forward to helping us build off of last year."

He's not the only one. The Blue Jackets are, too, after veteran defensemen Jack Johnson and Ian Cole found new teams via free agency.

"Ryan will be a huge part of the defense now, after losing the veterans [who] departed, and he is one of the reasons we felt we could let them go," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "We need him to have a healthy and great season for us and we think that he will."

READ MORE: BLUE JACKETS DEFENSEMAN RYAN MURRAY ACCEPTS CLUB QUALIFYING OFFER

Murray, whom Columbus took second overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, has proven to be a skilled two-way defenseman in five seasons with the Blue Jackets. He's tallied 70 points (12 goals, 60 assisst) in 264 career NHL games and has averaged 20:10 in ice time. He's also had multiple injuries, which have cost him numerous games and development time - including 60 games the past two years combined.

He missed 22 games in 2016-17 with multiple issues, including a broken hand, and missed 36 games this past season with a back injury that lingered almost three months. Murray also missed all but 12 games of the 2014-15 season with knee and ankle injuries. He's still 24-years old, though, and has shown that he's capable of staying healthy for an entire season.

Murray played a full slate of 82 games in 2015-16 and finished with an NHL career-high 25 points on four goals and 21 assists.

More of a passer than a shooter, Murray has good size at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, is a good skater and sees the ice like a playmaking forward. He's also a two-way defender capable of getting back defensively to break up plays.

As mentioned earlier, Murray's importance has also received a boost heading into next season. He's one of seven NHL-level defensemen under contract for 2018-19, with three more signed July 1 for organizational depth but Murray is one of the Jackets' most experienced blue-liners.

He has one more RFA year left, as well, before reaching unrestricted free agency.

"Ryan is a talented, young defenseman with terrific puck-moving abilities," Kekalainen said. "He has battled some injuries early in his career, but we believe he has overcome those and will be an important part of our blue line this season."

 

Overall, the Blue Jackets still need to re-sign RFA forward Oliver Bjorkstrand - who was also tendered a qualifying offer - but the roster that will be in place for the start of training camp is taking shape. According to CapFriendly.com, which tracks NHL and AHL contracts, Columbus now has $8.13 million left under the NHL Salary Cap of $79.5 million and 22 contracted players on the NHL roster.

 

A handful of players will lgo into camp looking to solidify NHL roster spots, including rookie center Alex Broadhurst and rookie defenseman Dean Kukan.

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