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Ryan Murray in midst of best season for Blue Jackets

Steady defenseman has found his groove for Columbus

by Jeffrey Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Ryan Murray played in his 300th game as a Columbus Blue Jacket a week ago vs. New Jersey, an accomplishment it probably took at least a season longer to get to than anyone would have anticipated when he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft. 

He was the so-called safe pick at the time, drafted by Columbus between Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk to be a steady-eddie defenseman - and a potential franchise cornerstone for the next decade-plus. 

At this point, everyone knows the injury struggles absorbed by the 25-year-old defenseman since then. Just 12 games on the ice during the 2014-15 season. He played in 82 games a year later, but it was a lost season from the word go for the Jackets. Then 60 games and a missed postseason in 2016-17 and 44 games last season while the Blue Jackets made the playoffs each of the past two years. 

Adversity has announced itself at each step of the way for Murray, one reason why this season -- and the accolades and milestones that come with it -- has been so rewarding for the Regina, Sasketchewan native. 

Video: In the Room: Ryan Murray 12/23/18

"I'm just trying to keep it going," Murray said. "I feel like things have gone pretty well, but it's a constant effort and a constant focus to keep things rolling. I feel like I've been playing well, and I feel good about my game and myself. I just want to do the things to give me the best opportunity to keep doing that." 

So far this season, Murray's numbers have been nothing short of impressive with a goal and 16 assists to go with a plus-16 rating in nearly 22 minutes of ice time per game. He's played on both the power play and penalty kill units and been used to defend some of the top lines in the league, all at the same time he's on a career-high scoring pace. 

The rebound from one year to another has been impressive. As a back injury cost him nearly half the season from November to February of last season, the cumulative frustration built. 

But somewhere upon his return to the lineup, he was a new Murray, one head coach John Tortorella has seen building his game. 

"I know I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as far as how he's changed his game here through the playoffs last year and the start of this year," Tortorella said. "He's trying to make a point to let everybody know he is a really good player." 

When asked what Murray brings to the lineup, Seth Jones -- who has spent much of the season paired with No. 27 -- said "steady." 

"It's helped our team enormously just having that presence back there every single night, knowing what you're going to get from him," Jones said. "He's not afraid to make plays. That's what I like about him the most. If he makes a mistake, he has a very short memory. We're lucky to have him." 

In the same vein, Tortorella talks often about players who stay at the same level -- not getting too high or too low when dealing with success or failure across an 82-game season -- and Murray is one player who has accepted that message. 

Given what he's been through, he has little other choice. 

"You learn that you have to play your game and stay true to who you are as a person and a player no matter what happens," Murray said. "I think that's a pretty good lesson. It goes along with not getting too high or too low. You have to establish a value of how you're going to play and who you're going to be, and whatever comes of that, you give it your best shot and you let the rest take care of itself. I think that's a pretty good lesson to learn." 

The next step is for Murray's game to continue to come along. While Tortorella said he sees glimpses of the player the hockey world believed would be a star in the league for a long time, he also sees another level to Murray's game as the Jackets move toward the postseason. 

"He and I have had a dynamic," Tortorella said. "We've talked about it here, where I want more out of him, because I know there's more in him. We've had conversations, whether it's fair, unfair, I'm right, he's right, I'm wrong, he's wrong. I think he has an inner drive to him that I wasn't sure it was there. And there were definitely times I tried to test him on was it there. I think that's part of him right now." 

"He's still a young guy playing the toughest position in the game," Tortorella said. "I think he's still growing up and understanding some of the responsibilities that he has with this organization. He is certainly going the right direction." 

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