Central Ohio is not often referred to as a hockey prospects hotbed, but local hockey talents and best friends Connor Murphy and Sean Kuraly are looking to change that.
Both residents of Dublin, Ohio, Murphy and Kuraly are ranked among the top 50 North American skaters entering this weekend's NHL draft and are poised to be taken in the draft’s opening three rounds.
|Sean Kuraly |
"It's kind of surreal, but I would never say I thought this would happen for sure," Kuraly said. "It's a big deal."
The two Dubliners, who have been playing together since 2002 when Murphy moved to Columbus, said much of their on-ice success can be attributed to the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets Organization. The organization was founded in 2004 by Program Coordinator Ed Gingher.
"It was huge in my development and it's a great resource," Murphy said. "They give you all the tools you need to succeed, you just have to put in the work. They have great coaches and a great staff. I can't say enough to how much they helped me get where I am today."
Gingher said guys like Murphy and Kuraly will only add to the city's hockey appeal.
|Connor Murphy |
"The talent pool in Columbus has gotten a lot better over the years and it's only going to continue to get better,” Gingher said. "These guys add additional credibility and they're great representatives of what Columbus hockey is about."
Kuraly said he also credits the Columbus Blue Jackets for raising interest in hockey locally among youth level players.
"A lot of the kids coming up were going to games during the inaugural season and now they're able to play at their own level," Kuraly said. "I think it's just the beginning of (youth players making the NHL from Central Ohio). There are younger guys now that are going to be even better."
Along with the help they received from the Columbus Blue Jackets and AAA Blue Jackets program, Gingher said it is their work ethic that has made both Murphy and Kuraly so successful.
"They both enjoy being on the ice and enjoy playing the game," Gingher said. "If they had ice 24 hours a day I guarantee you there would be days they would use it all 24 hours. They have passion for the game and it’s contagious between the two of them."
By playing with the AAA Blue Jackets, the two were able to hone their skills against some of the top competition nationally and internationally, as well. Now, after spending a couple of years on different United States Hockey League teams, Murphy, a defenseman, and Kuraly, a center, will reunite at Miami (Ohio) University where they both have committed to play next year.
There they will be able to continue to push each other as they have always done.
"There are some thing he’s better at than me and there are some things I do better than him so we help each other," Kuraly said. "We're both pretty competitive so it's good to have someone there to try and keep up with."
Aiding in Murphy's development has been his father, Gord Murphy, who is a 14-year NHL veteran and former assistant coach with the Blue Jackets from 2002-10.
"He's been amazing. He has so much knowledge of the game and I get advice three different ways – from a father, a coach and a fellow player," Connor said.
As an assistant coach for the Florida Panthers, Gord Murphy said he does not get to see his son play often, but will be in attendance at the draft.
"It's very exciting and rewarding but its much more nerve racking than playing, so I've got some different emotions,” Gord Murphy said.
After years of preparation, Both Kuraly and Murphy said they do not quite know what to expect at the draft this weekend.
"We've gone through pretty much everything together from playing hockey in Columbus and then moving on to the USHL and now to college and the draft," Murphy said. "It's been great to have another guy who's doing that and be able to talk it over with him and have someone to relate to."
Watch feature on Sean Kuraly below: