Thinking back to the Blue Jackets' development camp and getting the first "real" look at defenseman Ryan Murray seems like forever ago. At that time, there were several questions surrounding Murray--whether his surgically repaired shoulder was ready to go, if he was mentally and physically prepared to play on the NHL level, or if he would even make one of the final roster spots out of training camp. Nothing was guaranteed.
Fast forward to today, where 20-year-old Murray is excelling in the NHL, partnered with veteran defenseman James Wisniewski and averaging over 21 minutes a game--up from the 16:50 he averaged through the first 10 games of the season. Then, he averaged less than a shift per game on special teams and now plays upwards of three minutes on the power play unit per game.
“[Murray] is certainly on the right path, that's for sure," said Blue Jackets associate coach Craig Hartsburg, who knows Murray well. He coached Murray at the junior level with the Everett Silvertips and coaches the team's defensemen in Columbus. "He’s adapted well so far and he’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
Let's take a look at how Ryan Murray has evolved through the 2013-14 regular season (keep in mind, this is a 20-year-old NHL rookie):
|W-L-OT ||G ||A ||Pts ||TOI ||Sft ||pp toi ||pk toi ||es toi ||sog |
|5-5-0 ||1 ||1 ||2 ||16:50 ||19.7 ||0:55 ||0:35 ||15:17 ||5 |
|2-5-3 ||1 ||1 ||2 ||20:57 ||24.8 ||2:30 ||1:36 ||16:51 ||11 |
|2-3-0 ||1 ||1 ||2 ||21:39 ||24.6 ||2:43 ||1:37 ||17:19 ||2 |
|9-13-3 ||3 ||3 ||6 ||- - - ||- - - ||- - - ||- - - ||- - - ||18 |
**The chart above is broken down into the first 10 games, second 10 games, the past five games and the total 25 games. TOI, shifts, PP, PK and ES are average per game over that span.
TOTAL ICE TIME
In Murray's first six games, he didn't break the 17-minute barrier once. Since then, he has only played below 17 minutes one other time, and that was in the eighth game of the season against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 20. In fact, he has played 12 games with at least 20 minutes of total ice time since those first six games--nearly half of the 25 games played thus far.
Hartsburg said Murray's early ice time numbers were because the coaching staff wanted to see what he was capable of before giving him a bigger role and more responsibilities.
"After missing so much hockey last year and with him being a young player in the league, we started him out slower and didn’t want to give him too much too early on," said Hartsburg. "Now that he's more comfortable with his game, we’re all more comfortable and have tried to play him more in all situations."
The most noticable improvement for Murray has been his increase in power play time. After averaging less than a minute of PP time per game in the first 10 games, Murray has jumped to averaging 2:37 in his last 15 games. Time on the power play unit had to be earned, and Murray proved to himself and the staff that he's a lethal threat at the point.
"I definitely had to earn that position, that's for sure," said Murray. "The coaches are trusting me more and my 5-on-5 play led to opportunities on the power play. I just want to make the most of it and do the best I can with those opportunities."
Hartsburg said that he and the rest of the coaching staff agreed. "For young players, it’s important to get your 5-on-5 game in order early on," said Hartsburg. "If you worry about that first, then you eventually grow into special teams and he's done that. He’s a good, smart player, so we knew it was going to come."
Murray has also nearly tripled his shorthanded ice time from the first 10 games, proving he is more than capable of shutting down the NHL's top power play units, many of which contain players that are at least half a decade older and more experienced than he is.
Based on the chart above, Murray is contributing in more than just the defensive responsibilities of blocking shots, taking away passing lanes and connecting on passes. He's also contributing offensively as well--especially on the power play. He has six points so far this season--not too bad for a rookie defenseman.
Now, we will take a look at Murray's NHL highs this season:
|- - - ||Pts ||+/- ||TOI ||Sft ||PP ||PK ||ES TOI ||SOG ||BS |
|- - - ||2 ||+3 ||24:08 ||29 ||5:59 ||4:16 ||21:30 ||4 ||6 |
|Game ||TOR 11/25 ||TOR 11/25 ||CGY 11/20 ||NYR 11/7 ||TOR 10/25 ||OTT 11/17 ||CGY 11/20 ||OTT 11/5 ||OTT 11/17 |
Most of his season (and career) highs have come within the second half of the games played thus far. These numbers are nothing to scoff at for a player of his age and experience level.
Murray has spent a lot of extra time this season outside of normal practice hours to sharpen his game, improve his strength and fine-tune the basics--something the coaching staff and his Blue Jackets teammates have taken notice of.
"He would stay on the ice for hours if you let him," Hartsburg said, laughing. “He does little things in practice and after practice as far as handling the puck but he’s a smart kid but he’s a really hard worker too. He plays with the puck and takes great pride in doing the little things right—whether it’s handling the puck under pressure or making the play under pressure or making the right play."
Hartsburg also attributes Murray's growth to Wisniewski, Murray's defensive partner and mentor both on and off the ice.
"Those two really complement each other," Hartsburg said. "They play really well together. For a young player to play with a veteran who has been in the NHL and seen lots of different situations, it’s really helped him a lot. They’ve been a solid and consistent pair for us.”
When asked what his predictions are for his ice time totals over the next five games, Murray just shook his head.
“I have no idea," he said with a smile. "I guess we’ll see.”