Ryan Murray answered a lot of questions during the 2018-19 season, until the biggest one that has impacted his career came up again.
The second overall pick in the 2012 draft played his best hockey this season for the Blue Jackets, posting a career-high 28 assists and 29 points in the 56 games as well as a career-best plus-20 rating.
He was skating big minutes on the top defensive pair with Seth Jones and was standing out in all the unique facets of his game -- excelling on the penalty kill, making tremendous passes to start transition rushes and helping shut down opposing standout forwards at 5-on-5.
Then, it all came to an abrupt end as injury again cropped up. The star-crossed defenseman left early in the Feb. 18 home game vs. Tampa Bay and never played again, marking the fifth time in his seven seasons he played 60 or fewer games in a season.
The irony is that he felt he had just come off his best game, a Feb. 16 contest in Chicago in which he'd had three assists. In the last eight games before the undisclosed injury ended his season, Murray had seven assists and was plus-7.
"I felt like I was playing well and contributing," the obviously disappointed 25-year-old said last week. "It's kind of the way it goes. I remember the game in Chicago. That was probably the best game I ever played. Things were rolling and then bad things happen, and that's the way it goes. You deal with it."
He said he thought it was a tweak at first, but Murray never returned to the lineup. He was skating and close to ramping things up with an eye on a return late in the series vs. Boston, but that chance never came as the Bruins won the series in six games.
"I think it was just we were trying to get to make sure I could take the right steps and not have a fallback," he said. "Time was pretty delicate at the end of the year. One setback basically was going to knock you out of it. Not that we were careful with it. I came in every day and worked and tried to get on the ice as much as possible. It just wasn't in the cards this year."
The whole thing leaves Murray in a tough spot. He is a restricted free agent this offseason, coming off the best play of his career but again dogged by the injury bug.
The good news, at least for Murray, is that he expects to make a full recovery. He'll return to Columbus this June to meet with the training staff, but so far, the strides he's taken throughout rehab have been "pretty encouraging."
"I look at it and say, 'Things could always be worse,'" he said. "You talk to the doctors and they say you're going to make a full recovery and be ready to roll again. A lot of people don't get that news."
Count Jones among those who hopes to see the talented blue liner return to form going forward.
"Murr was huge for us this year," Jones said. "He had one of his best years. Before he got injured, I think he had (29) points, right? I played with him a little bit this year when I was struggling and just playing with him you seem to settle down a little bit."