At the time, Ryan Murray
didn’t think much of making the jump directly from junior hockey to the NHL - never mind that he did so on the heels of major shoulder surgery, and at the age of 20.
Former Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson and current GM Jarmo Kekalainen have referred to Murray as a wise-beyond-his-years player, mainly because of his unique wealth of experience for a young kid. He played in international competition on the World Junior stage and also with men at the World Hockey Championship, so he was already leaps and bounds ahead of other players his age despite being set back by a major shoulder injury, one that prematurely ended his 2012-13 season.
Despite being widely considered by many to be “NHL ready” last fall, Murray - more than anyone - knew that he’d have to earn his spot during Blue Jackets training camp.
An uphill battle it was, coming off surgery and not having a feel for the NHL game. But Murray passed each test with flying colors, solidifying not only a spot on the roster but a place in the Jackets’ top four defensemen.
“The players are more experienced, they’ve been through this – in some cases – for many years,” Murray told BlueJackets.com. “They’re more talented, they’re faster…all those things come into play and it was a major change as a 20-year-old rookie. Everybody can play.
"It doesn’t matter who you’re matched up against, everyone has some element of skill in their game. You always have to be on your toes.”
|Murray made an impact on the Jackets' blue line at the ripe age of 20. |
Murray was as steady and solid as advertised, earning the trust of coach Todd Richards and associate coach Craig Hartsburg to get more responsibility and more minutes in crucial spots. Hartsburg knew Murray well, too, having coached him for two years in Everett before joining the Columbus coaching staff in June 2012.
Hartsburg runs the Blue Jackets’ defense in-game, and showed little hesitancy in using a 20-year-old in high-pressure situations deep into the season.
“Hartsy was great for me this year,” Murray said. “He’s a great coach and he had a great career. He’s so knowledgeable about the game and playing defense and has done this for so long. He’s pretty much seen everything; he’s a great guy to have behind you on the bench, and he’s always got the right tips and pointers to guide you along.”
The advice and positive reinforcement from the coaches was especially important late in the season, when Murray went down with a knee injury and had to miss a big part of the team’s stretch run.
When he eventually returned to the lineup, the Blue Jackets were in the middle of a playoff race - even more more on-the-fly learning for a kid who had grown accustomed to it as the season progressed.
“Early on, it was a little difficult to get adjusted to the NHL style, the speed, all that stuff,” Murray said. “It’s a different world, different than any other hockey I’ve ever played. It really sucked getting injured late in the year and missing time in most critical part of our season, and it’s tough to watch those games because they mean so much.
“Those were the two toughest things I went through this season but I think I’ll be a better player for it in the long run.”