Before he was drafted second overall by the Blue Jackets back in June, the words "experience" and "leadership" were already prominent in Ryan Murray's lexicon.
Talk to anyone who knows the kid, and you get the same answer: he's a natural-born leader, wise beyond his 18 years of age and appears ready to be an NHL player at this very moment. I remember being on a riverboat in Pittsburgh, walking from station to station while trying to get to know the teenagers who could (in the near future) be faces of the franchise.
It's an odd experience, for the simple fact that no one really knows which player will go where -- and that little detail where you're complete strangers. But I immediately sensed that Murray was different; he talked at length about being the captain of the Everett Silvertips, and how leading his junior club taught him so much about being accountable and showing up ready to play every single night.
Then I thought to myself, "this kid is 18 years old." Throughout our conversation, I had to be reminded of it. Murray was the real deal.
Opportunity has presented itself to Murray yet again. Due to the NHL work stoppage, the Blue Jackets assigned Murray to the Silvertips over the weekend, returning the team captain for another run at a Memorial Cup championship. It's an important year for the Washington (state) based club; 2012-13 will be the Silvertips' 10th anniversary season and they're looking to capitalize on momentum built up in the second half of last season.
Murray becomes the top defenseman on the club, and will be the go-to blue liner in all situations for head coach Mark Ferner, who returns for his second season. Ferner replaced Craig Hartsburg (who is now an assistant coach with the Blue Jackets under Todd Richards) and did a stellar job in leading Everett to its ninth straight WHL playoff berth in 2011-12.
"Obviously it's a great thing for this organization, for our fans, for our players," Ferner told the Everett Herald. "The type of person he is, he even called me and apologized that he wasn't in camp. He wanted to be here. That just goes to show the type of kid he is.
"Certainly we're going to welcome him back with open arms, and he'll be good for us for as long as we have him, we know that."
The Silvertips were in last place at the halfway point a year ago, and despite battling through injuries at key positions (including Murray), were able to qualify for the postseason. They'll have Murray from the outset to open the campaign and feature one of their deepest defenses in years, returning three rearguards from last year's club.
Everett GM Garry Davidson made a significant move on the eve of the WHL season, acquiring goaltender Cole Holowenko (1993) from the Prince Albert Raiders in exchange for two players. The hope is that Holowenko will help balance a goaltending tandem with incumbent Austin Lotz, and helping out the Murray-led defense.
Is this a better Silvertips club than a year ago? It's hard to tell right now, but the addition of Murray for another season has to give the team, Ferner, and his staff a big boost. Murray is a big-minutes defenseman and, according to scouts, may still have some untapped potential in the offensive end.
He won't be the sole reason the Silvertips return to the WHL playoffs, but as the Silvertips know, Murray will be their pillar of consistency from start to finish.