It isn't often a teenage hockey fanatic would opt to spend weekend nights in the summer jamming on a six-string alongside a group of friends to the sounds of legendary rock singer Neil Young.
Then again, Everett Silvertips defensemanRyan Murray is anything but ordinary.
The 6-foot, 201-pound Murray might not be the flashiest performer available among what many consider to be a deep and talented group of defensemen eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, but he might be the most consistent.
"I think Murray brings something to the game ... he brings a steadiness to the game to the point that you know he'll play 15 years in the League without any problem," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com.
NHL.com sat down in February with the 18-year-old Murray and asked the native of Regina, Sask., what makes playing his position so difficult. After reflecting for almost seven seconds, Murray couldn't think of anything.
"I've played defense all my life ... it's not really that hard," Murray told NHL.com. "It's all reactionary. I try and play a patient game with or without the puck. I try to force the forward into making the first move and then react if they make a mistake. It's lot of hard work on defense, battling in the corners and stuff, but it's something that's always come natural to me, I guess."
Much like playing guitar came so naturally. After all, he only started learning the instrument last year when roommate Alex Theriau acted as his personal musical instructor. Theriau, drafted in the fourth round (No. 109) by the Dallas Stars in 2010, now is starring on defense for the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers.
"Me and my buddies back home, we all can play guitar and we hang out and jam to Neil Young songs often," said Murray, who only cracked a smile.
"My favorite song is probably 'Hey Hey, My My,'" Murray said. "I was curious, so I went out and bought a cheap guitar and my roommate taught me. I've been hooked ever since and have pretty much played every day since then."
And when he's not strumming melodies to"Cowgirl in the Sand" or "Ohio," he's living up to the high expectations that have followed him as a highly-coveted draft prospect. Murray is rated No. 3 among all North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of players eligible for this year's draft, to be held June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.
He missed the age cutoff for the 2011 Draft by 12 days; many feel he would have been a first-round pick last June.
As the youngest player selected to play for Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship, Murray had 3 assists in six games en route to earning a bronze medal. In his third season with the Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, Murray has not only become a calming influence along the blue line, but a leader.
Is he ready for the NHL?
"I think so," he said. "It's my third year in the WHL and when I first came into the league, it was pretty tough every single night since you have to bring your best as a young kid."
When asked if he had ever considered the possibility of being drafted with the first pick, Murray shook his head.
"I haven't really thought about it a whole lot," he said. "Those two players (Nail Yakupov of Sarnia and Mikhail Grigorenko of Quebec) are unbelievable players and they have a ton of skill. Yakupov lights the lamp quite a bit and he's got a ton of skill. It's kind of hard to imagine something like (being drafted first) happening. But if it ever did, that would definitely be a dream come true ... it'd be pretty crazy."
Murray was named Everett's Rookie of the Year after finishing with 22 assists and 27 points in 62 games in 2009-10. He currently sports a plus-49 rating in his two-plus seasons with the team. The franchise record is held byTampa Bay Lightning prospect Radko Gudas (plus-45), who spent just one season in Everett (2009-10).
The Silvertips, ninth in the 10-team Western Conference, have struggled this season, winning just 15 of 56 games. Still, Murray has made the best of the situation, posting 21 points, including a career-high 8 goals.
"I'm playing against younger guys now, so it makes the game a little bit easier," Murray said. "I think that I'm ready to move on, but at the same time the NHL is an extremely tough League to make so it's hard to say at this point."
Murray credited his minor-hockey coach with the Balgonie Prairie Storm, Barry Nychuk, as the most influential in his career so far.
"I had him in bantam and he had a son my age, as well, so I was always hanging out there and he really understood how to develop young players," Murray said. "I think even today he's still the best coach I've ever had. He came to World Juniors and is one of those guys who always keeps in touch with the players."
Murray is the second oldest in a family of five siblings, including three brothers and a sister. Each has been playing hockey since the age of 2.
"We were basically born into it," Murray said.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
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