PITTSBURGH – On Thursday night, Scott Howson jokingly said he had a guess as to who the Edmonton Oilers would select with the first overall pick. When he had the opportunity to draft Ryan Murray a few minutes later, there was nothing but certainty.
The 18-year-old captain of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips became the newest member of the Blue Jackets organization on Friday, and joins an already-strong group of defensemen in Columbus. Howson and the club’s hockey operations staff sat with fingers crossed, hoping the Oilers would leave Murray on the board. When it became reality, the Blue Jackets selected the player they had rated No. 1 on their pre-draft list.
He has all the characteristics that a solid hockey player is comprised of: natural leadership ability, a willingness to always improve, and – not to be forgotten – a mature, pro-style game on the ice surface.
At least two other NHL clubs were keenly interested in moving up in the order to take Murray, but Howson stayed put.
“We got a very attractive offer to move off, too, and we just said no,” Howson said. “We got another offer from the same team and we said no again. They kept coming, but we were locked in on Ryan Murray. He was No. 1 on our list and that's the guy we wanted to take.
“(Defense) is certainly the strongest part of our team, and I think it's crucial to win in the NHL from the back end out. We added a goalie today, so hopefully we're getting a little sturdier in the defensive zone and in defending. Now we're going to have to address how we score."
|Alex Galchenyuk (left), Nail Yakupov (center) and Ryan Murray (right) pose together after being the draft's top three selections. |
Though Howson said Murray was the top player on the Blue Jackets’ list, they made sure not to let Murray in on the secret. After several days of meetings – and more than one with Columbus – Murray sat in the seats at CONSOL Energy Center with his parents by his side, and his mind full of uncertainty as the seven o’clock hour approached.
The giant exhale after hearing his name called made it all worthwhile.
“They didn’t make it clear to me, no,” Murray said with a laugh. “I met with them earlier (Thursday) and had a good meeting. They were pretty intense towards me, but they were a lot nicer to me after the draft. It’s crunch time and there were a lot of big decisions that needed to be made.”
One decision that wasn’t difficult was to bring 71-year-old Parker Fowlds to Pittsburgh with him to witness his life-changing moment – and it’s because Fowlds made Murray’s first life-changing event a possibility.
Fowlds welcomed Murray into his home as a billet two years ago in Everett, Wash., and the lessons Murray learned can’t be quantified in value. “Home away from home” can sometimes be tired phrase, but for Murray, Fowlds’ home was home, and a big reason why he was able to stride across the stage and shake Gary Bettman’s hand.
“He wanted to come (to the draft) since the start of the year,” Murray said. “I’ve been with him for two years, and he’s taken me in and really been like a father to me.
“He’s a great guy that’s really taken care of me over the past two years, so I really wanted him to be here.”
Many scouts and NHL types believe Murray is ready to step in and play right away, but as Howson has repeatedly said, the player will ultimately make that decision. Murray took a step in that direction this past season, when he was invited to Team Canada’s pre-tournament camp for the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
After a tremendous showing at the World Junior tournament earlier in the year, he earned the opportunity to train with some of the elite players in the game. One of his teammates during the tournament was Blue Jackets defenseman Marc Methot, who Murray said gave a ringing endorsement of the city of Columbus and the organization Murray now calls home.
All it took was a couple of injuries on the Canadian blue line and Murray was forced into game action – an experience that he said not only helped him get better at the time, but will be something he can reflect on as his career progresses.
“It was just a great experience for me,” Murray said. “I was only supposed to go down there for about a week and maybe get some exhibition games in, and some guys got hurt and it kind of opened the door for me.
“It was great to play with those guys, practice with them and see how they prepare themselves both on and off the ice.”
The next thing he has to prepare for is a career in the NHL with the Blue Jackets – and Murray knows he will have to make it count once training camp gets under way in September. The Columbus defense corps features some household names, and Murray said playing his way on to the roster will be anything but easy.
“They have a lot of good defensemen,” he said, smiling. “I have a lot of work to do.”