Ryan Murray isn't counting the days or anything, but he has July 3 circled, starred and bolded on his calendar.
Why? That's the day he will head to Columbus for a doctor's appointment he has been anxiously awaiting for quite some time. After months of rehabilitation from season-ending shoulder surgery, Murray fully expects Blue Jackets team doctors to clear him for contact just prior to the team's annual development camp.
The mood was quite different five months ago when Murray underwent shoulder surgery to effectively end not only his season, but eliminate one final chance to play for Canada at the World Junior tournament and delay a potential NHL breakthrough until at least 2013. Murray, 19, admitted to being pretty disappointed in the days and weeks following his November injury and subsequent surgery, but the message from Blue Jackets
management was always consistent: let's get the shoulder healed the right way, no matter how long it takes.
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Murray agreed and took on a lengthy and occasionally-aggravating rehabilitation process, one that meant little to no skating until the shoulder's strength returned and very limited hockey-related activities. Originally given a six-month time frame for a complete recovery, Murray told BlueJackets.com this week that he's back to full health just two weeks shy of the projected window.
After months of aching to get back on the ice and get the hockey juices flowing again, Murray is a fortnight away from it becoming a reality.
"The shoulder feels 100 percent and I have no limitations whatsoever in any of my training or exercises I’ve been doing on the ice," Murray said. "It feels great, I’m really excited and now I just need to get that final OK from the doctor to do contact."
The Blue Jackets' first-round pick (No. 2 overall) in 2012 will be a full participant at development camp for a second consecutive year, but he acknowledged this year's camp will be slightly different from a year ago: he's a year older and the Blue Jackets are likely to have some new faces at development camp.
Murray said there's added excitement because he has an opportunity to meet some new members of the organization and re-connect with those he hasn't seen in a while.
"I’m definitely looking forward to getting back into high-intensity drills and workouts on the ice, it’s been way too long," Murray said. "It’s tough to find intense skates and stuff during the summer so it will be nice to get back into that. I haven’t been on the ice much at all, really; I skated once with (injured players in Columbus) when I was in town but other than that it hasn’t been really intense.
"It will be nice to get back into the groove and I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the new guys who we pick and also the guys I met at camp last year."
The majority of Murray's extended offseason has been spent at home in Saskatchewan, following his rehab program and making sure he's executing the summer fitness program instituted by Blue Jackets strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins.
He's been able to spend time with family and friends he doesn't normally see during the busy hockey season, but being outside of the hockey grind has gotten old...and fast. Murray said he played just 17 games last season with Everett (WHL), giving him reason to refute the notion that offseasons are too short.
Murray said his focus throughout was doing exactly what John Davidson said: making sure the shoulder is 100 percent and ready to go when training camp rolls around.
"They basically told me to work hard and make sure that shoulder’s ready to go when it’s time," Murray said of his conversations with Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen. "It’s pretty important to make sure we get it right, make sure the rehab is done properly and take care of myself. They really stressed the importance of getting stronger and being in shape.
"This is going to be quite the transition at training camp this year. Obviously, nothing is guaranteed and I haven’t played much real hockey in a long time. I’m sure there will be some slight adjustments I’ll have to make, and I’ll have to get used to NHL speed and all that in camp. I’m going to be as prepared as I can be, and work as hard as I can to get better and put myself in the best possible position to make the team."